Fax Via The Internet:
Services Help Travelers Receive Fax Messages While on the Go

It's always been easier for E-mail to follow you around the world. With E-mail you log in and retrieve your mail when it's convenient for you, from wherever you happen to be. Fax messages, on the other hand, have posed greater problems. While fax machines are readily available worldwide, it's always taken considerable advance planning to research the fax numbers at the hotels or offices where you'll be visiting and letting others know at which numbers you can be reached on what dates.

Fortunately, now there are a growing number of services that make it as easy to store and retrieve fax messages as E-mail.

Here's how they work: By paying a monthly fee, you are issued your own fax phone number. Faxes sent to this number are then converted to a new electronic format and either sent to you via Email or stored so you can read them on the Web.

To find out more about how this works, On the Road reviewed two such services in the US, one based in Palo Alto, California and the other in Atlanta, Georgia. Readers elsewhere will find similar services springing up around the world.

Boomerang's FaxNet Service

When you sign up for FaxNet you are given a fax number. Faxes sent to that number are received just as any fax machine receives a message. The sender, in fact, won't know the difference. FaxNet then delivers you your fax messages via Email in the form of an Adobe Acrobat PDF file.

To read your messages, naturally you need to have a copy of Acrobat on your computer, but this is far less of a hurdle than it may at first seem. Acrobat has become a common way to distribute documents over the Web and chances are you may already have the software installed. If you do not, you can download a copy for free from Adobe's Web site at http://www.adobe.com.

Once the PDF file is downloaded to your hard drive as an attached file, you can view or print the file by opening Acrobat. The Acrobat software is well designed to facilitate navigation from page to page of the fax.

FaxNet offers two basic services. To be issued a fax phone number with a 415 area code, you pay US$9.95 a month, plus $.25 for each fax page received after an initial 25. For $29.95, you are issued a toll-free 800 or 888 number, and then pay $.40 for each page after the initial 25. Discounts are available for heavy users. There is an initial setup fee equal to one month's basic charge. Charges are billed monthly to your credit card.

FaxWeb: Faxes via the Web

FaxWeb takes a different approach, but accomplishes much the same as the Boomerang service. FaxWeb charges you a flat rate of US$15 a month after a $25 setup fee. You are issued a personal fax number in the 404 area code covering Atlanta. Instead of receiving the messages via Email, with FaxWeb you use your Web browser to go to a specific Web site to view or download your fax messages.

To read your faxes, you'll need first to download software that FaxWeb supplies you for free once you've established an account. This software is designed to be configured as a Helper Application for Netscape or other browsers. After you've configured it (which isn't hard to do), the viewer software will pop up on your screen from within your browser every time your browser encounters one of your incoming fax messages (FaxWeb uses TIFF files to store your fax messages).

To access your fax messages you point your browser to a specific Web address, enter a user name and password, and you're off and running. To let you know that a fax message is waiting for you, FaxWeb will send you notification by Email.

Recommendations:

Deciding which of these services you wish to use is mostly a question of whether you prefer to receive your faxes via Email or on the Web. You probably have a preference, but it's hard to say that one is inherently better than the other for all people. Both systems require special software, but in both cases it is available at no charge. With differing price schedules, it's difficult to say which service is less expensive. It will depend on your usage patterns, with the FaxWeb service's flat rates most attractive to heavy users.

Promoters of these sites are quick and correct to point out that with these services there's never a busy signal, as the services can handle multiple incoming fax messages at a time. Plus, there's no paper for your fax machine to run out of.


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