Fax servers power broadcast fax. They're machines that run special software to electronically process and store incoming and outgoing faxes [source: Technology Association of Georgia]. The most important job of a fax server is to convert digital files into analog (or phone line) fax signals that can be sent to conventional fax machines.
Faxes are tricky because they can be sent and received by different kinds of machines that operate using different protocols and standards. Computers, for example, use something called Internet Protocol (IP) to send and receive data over a network. With Internet Protocol, an outgoing message is chopped up into small packets of data that are individually routed to the destination where they are reassembled using something called Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) [source: SearchVoIP].
Modern fax machines are digital -- meaning they communicate in 1s and 0s like computers -- but they send and receive that digital data over analog phone lines. Therefore, for a computer to communicate with a fax machine, all data needs to be converted to an analog signal that the fax machine can understand. That's the job of the fax server.
The fax server functions as a gateway between the IP computer network and the analog phone network. This technology is sometimes called FoIP (Fax over Internet Protocol). Read our article on FoIP for an in-depth explanation of how FoIP works.
Here are some common features of fax servers:
- Send and receive faxes via e-mail or Web interface
- Store and archive faxes
- Track and report back on sent faxes
- Automatically route faxes for cost-effectiveness and efficiency
- Integrate with back-office applications for automated document delivery
- Maintain group mailing lists
- Broadcast faxes to many recipients at once
[source: Technology Association of Georgia]
If a company wants to take advantage of broadcast faxing, it has to make a decision: to host or not to host? It can purchase its own fax server (or multiple servers) and host its own broadcast faxes, or it can subscribe to a broadcast fax service that will host the faxes on its own servers. On the next page, we'll talk about the economics of broadcast fax.