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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

eFax replaces fascimile technology


Dearth of fax machines in the country has led Nigerians into discovering an electronic alternative, e-Fax, reports REMMY NWEKE.

Recently, a frequent traveler, Mazi Nnaka Ezeukwu was puzzled during a consular’s interview session in Lagos, when he was asked to provide the fax copy of his letter of invitation after he provided the original and electronic mail (email) copy earlier sent to him to facilitate his visa request to participate in an industry event in one of the Schengen states.

Initially, he agreed to make the request from the representatives of the organizers in South Africa, which covered the African region, then he wanted to ensure that his office fax machine was still in working order. So, he placed a call across to a colleague in charge of the communications room, who confirmed to him that their fax has since stopped working, even as state representatives country-wide now use email to send weekly reports, hence, it has not been in working order for about five years plus now.

He went on to call two others of his industry friends to know whether he should route the fax through their offices. The response he got was “do fax machines still work in the country?” In fact, one of them went on to enlighten him that since the emergence of the Global System for Mobile communications (GSM) and deterioration of services by Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL), the usage of fax machines has declined.

While another suggested that some of the GSM and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) operators are now offering fax service alongside other Value Added Service (VAS) on their networks. He was advised to checkout the mobile operators.

To muddle Ezeukwu’s plight, telecommunications operators in the country seem to have shunned the promotion and offering of fax services to their subscribers, thus paving the way for strangulation of the once popular VAS.

Although, fax machines have been around since 1842, when Alexander Bain invented a machine capable of receiving signals from a telegraph wire and translating same into images on paper. In 1850, a London inventor named F. C. Blakewell, received a patent for a similar machine, which he called a copying telegraph.

Fax service has its origin drawn from ‘Facsimile’ machine, a device that could send or receive pictures and text over telephone lines. Fax machines work by digitizing an image - dividing it into a grid of dots. Each dot is either on or off, depending on whether it is black or white.

Electronically, experts define each dot as symbolizing a bit that has a value of either 0 (off) or 1 (on). In this way, the fax machine translates a picture into a series of zeros and ones (called a bit map) that could be transmitted like normal computer data. At the receiving end, a fax machine reads the incoming data, translates the zeros and ones black into dots, and reprints the picture.

But with the coming of GSM and CDMA into the nation’s polity, this service has been taken over by mobile phones as they are embedded with the facility to deliver fax, overtly with a modem.

ITRealms Online investigations revealed that this service is not among promotional Value Added Services of most of the operators in the country, be it GSM or CDMA, which encouraged its demise. Just as some business centre who hitherto claimed to offer fax services confessed they hinged their hope on probable return of NITEL to this service.

On their positions, some of the operators claimed that they were either in the process of upgrading to accommodate fax utilities on the networks or on the verge of launching their modem to facilitate the offering on their networks.

While some feigned ignorance over the offering of such and on how much they charge subscribers where the claim was that the network offers fax service. Almost all of them were silent on that, but said that they simply offer fax service.

For instance, the Corporate Service Executive at MTN Nigeria, Mr. Wale Goodluck, told ITRealms Online that he would soon confirm the status of fax service offering on the network, although it is a fading technology.

“It’s just that fax is a dying technology,” he said, while the External Communications Manager, MTN Nigeria, Mr. Andrew Okeleke, equally promised to respond to our request later after making inquiry from the marketing department. “I am quite busy now,” he wrote, in a Short Messaging Service (SMS) to ITRealms Online. While Etisalat’s public relations officer, Mr. Yinka Ijabiyi also promised to get back, but as at press time no further response was received from them.

However, Director, Marketing, Globacom, Mr. Jagat Singh, said, “Yes, fax is possible, but the customer needs to buy a GSM fax modem from us. Take a fax connection from us with an up-front payment of N2,000, plus deposit. Usage rates are not per page, but in minutes and seconds.”

Zain’s Public Relations Manager for Nigeria, Mr. Emmanuel Otokhine told ITRealms Online, that his firm offers fax, but the customer has to buy the modem for about N15,000.00.

Visafone’s Assistant General Manager, Marketing Strategies, Mr. Clifford Onyeike, informed that Visafone has its “fax modem ready for commercial launch.” Whereas, Head, Corporate Communications, Visafone, Mr. Toni Kan Onwudi, affirming this noted that the firm’s model of phones come with fax facilities and a router modem, “so when a customer gets fax message, it could be printed out via the router.”

Just as David Babalola of Starcomms, a CDMA operator, told our correspondent that presently his firm is offering that service, but they were anticipating an upgrade of the network soon, so as to offer the service, optimally.

ITRealms Online recalls that during the monopoly era of NITEL in the 1980s till GSM advent, faxing of documents was an attractive value added service, thus lucrative, as well Nigerians took time to queue up for days just to send or receive fax. But investigations further revealed that NITEL staff multiple strikes in recent years was not helpful, the trend paved the way for mobile operators to thrive, even on data delivery.

Attempts at any of the NITEL’s service centres scattered all over the country showed they were permanently closed for business, as one of the workers at the Mushin-Lagos office of NITEL, anonymously told ITRealms Online that “nothing is working here, even ordinary telephone for voice.”

Unknown to most people in developing countries including Nigeria, there is an alternative in electronic faxing (efax), which eliminates totally the fax machine usage, but has the capability to accept documents faxed from such machines.

eFax is an online fax service that practically abolishes the use of fax machine in addition to reduction in the need for extra telephone line as well as other attendant hiccups such as special papers, ink cartridges and maintenance to mention a few, even as some people and corporate entities including embassies rank high among those still very much in need of carrying out or conclude transactions on daily basis via fax.

With over a 10,000 eFax agents globally, none seems to have link to Nigeria except for the GSM and CDMA operators. Apart from eFax.com, there are others available today, including myfax.com, fax2mail.com, fax.com, faxpipe.com, nextag.com, and faxage.com to name a few.

According to experts at www.efax.com, for instance, electronic faxing service is invariably Internet fax service with the goal of using the convenience of email and the speed of the Internet to make it easier for people to send and receive faxes.

eFax is a generic name for electronic fax, although it has become a trademark of J2 Global Communications for such services, it has grown to become one of the world’s largest Internet-based messaging services offering fax by email to more than 9 million people.

“Our appeal and success are built around three key features: the widest selection of phone numbers; an easy way to send and receive faxes and voicemail by email; and a fast, reliable and secure communications network,” eFax official stated.

New subscribers, our source said, could choose from three eFax service levels, namely personal or individual, small business and large corporate and could decide to pay for charges in local currency as well as the ability to choose a fax number for where they work, live or do business, thus providing chances of checking faxes from any computer where you could read your email, even as eFax offers up to 130 incoming fax pages per month for free with free customer support and could have them in three digital file formats; Product Document File (PDF), Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) and media file called EFX.

Describing it as fast, reliable, and secure communications network, officials of eFax.com, said subscribers would enjoy faxing and voicemail on its global network of cutting-edge servers, starting with 30 day trial version.

Commenting on the efficacy of eFax, Mortgage Broker, Mr. D. David, noted that it is a cost effective way to fax, because he had saved over 80 per cent on paper and toner cost.

The good news is that nowadays, and given the growth of mobiles on the continent, especially in Nigeria with an estimated 64 million subscribers, most of who have Internet access on their mobiles, eFax definitely is within reach. So also now the continent has an estimated 54,171,500 million Internet users, representing 5.6 per cent of 975.3 million of the populace.

Out of this figure, Northern African country of Egypt leads the pack with an estimated 10.5 million, while Nigeria has 10 million and Ghana recording 650,000 as at the end of December 2008, according to the Internet World Statistic, released recently.

ITRealms Online discovered that though the eFax service seems available in over 35 countries of the world across five continents, Africa has only Egypt on the list of those countries where electronic fax could be delivered on location with fax numbers available for grabs free-of-charge, except if one takes the local mobile operators’ options.

These alternatives mostly require modems to deliver fax apart from the internet access, such as prevalent in today Nigeria’s market among some notable operators.
For instance, leading Global System for Mobile communications operators, MTN, Zain and Glo have promising eFax solutions, alongside Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) operators, namely Visafone and Starcomms.

What exist now has slight difference with what could be attained deploying Microsoft Windows XP eFax alternative, although users may have to put up with a phone line, a modem, and a scanner to send and receive faxes from their computers.

Industry observers opined that with ICT convergence, most mobiles have been manufactured to accommodate using them as modem, especially high end handsets directly as modem, therefore eliminating the need for separate modem.

Internet users on the other hand who are inclined to desktop publishing could still make do without scanners, after all, they can structure their letterheads and type-in their letter contents as the need arises electronically.

Most of all, what this revelation has shown is that there is business angle to eFax, mostly in emerging market like Nigeria, which a lot of Nigerian-based small business could tap into. After all, it saves costs of ownership since it is the same email you use in checking your email that could still be used for the same purpose. This is in addition to eFax ensuring your privacy, reliability and mobility.

Maybe, a trial of the 30-day version would definitely convince you to discard your ‘prestigious’ fax machine into the bin and add that space on your table for something else.

As matter of fact, it was the mobile option that Nnaka Ezeukwu took eventually to solve his challenge of getting fax from South Africa, within 24 hours, and by the next day, he resurfaced at the embassy handy with the requirement and was able to get visa, which made his planned trip a success.

ITREALMS Online ... delivering news for ICT4D

8 comments:

Unknown said...

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Unknown said...

Thanks for this information, for the past 2 weeks i have been studying about efax. Am an internet cafe operator. Many people have requested fax services although not very frequent. Since i can't provide it they go elsewhere. I want to add it among services I provide. I have studied over 10 efax providers. The info you have provided would help me a lot. Thanks.

lerca88 said...

I am also use online fax but from Popfax, and what i want to say that i am very happy with the service, it much easier and more pleasant than the fax machines.

popfax said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
popfax said...

Send faxes right from your iPhone, see here how to http://pop-fax.blogspot.com/2013/05/how-to-send-and-receive-faxes-with.html

Leona said...

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