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October 7, 1996

Avoid long-distance charges; send your faxes via the 'net

Symantec Corp. will soon announce a major upgrade to its Windows-based fax software that will enable users to send faxes via the Internet and avoid long-distance charges, according to sources familiar with the technology.

The new software, to be marketed as WinFax Pro 7.5, will allow users to specify the routing for a fax recipient as "Internet" instead of the typical "fax" or "e-mail" routing.

If Internet routing is selected for a recipient, the fax software sends compressed and encrypted fax data to NetCentric Corp., an Internet service provider (ISP) in Cambridge, Mass. NetCentric, in turn, routes each fax to ISPs located in major metropolitan areas throughout North America. These ISPs use banks of fax/modems to reconvert the data and send it to the final destination via a local call. While the fax is en route, WinFax reports the status of the transmission.

Although this routing eliminates most long-distance charges, the service still costs money. In the early stages, before a major city has established a local Point of Presence (POP), Symantec plans to charge as much as 15 cents per minute for Internet faxes. This is lower than some day-rate, long-distance calls, but higher than some off-peak rates.

After POPs are in place in all major markets, however, the price is expected to drop to 5 cents per minute or less. Competition for Internet fax services should make this drop occur within one to two years.

One angle could make even the 15-cent rate attractive to heavy international fax senders. The same 15-cent charge applies to any fax sent to any U.S. phone number from anywhere in the world. Users in Europe and Asia who send many faxes to the United States should find the 15-cent rate far lower than what an ordinary international long-distance service provider charges.

A variety of schemes to merge faxes with the 'net are being developed. One service with an early start is All you do is send e-mail to For example, e-mail sent to would print the e-mail message on a fax machine in Washington (area code 202). You must include the country code, such as 1 for the United States, 44 for the United Kingdom, and so on., however, is a text-only fax service. (For details, send e-mail to

Ironically, a more serious competitor to Symantec is NetCentric, which offers Windows-based fax software called FaxStorm that you download from its server after establishing a user account. FaxStorm originates fax data to NetCentric, which routes it the same way as WinFax Pro does.

NetCentric's server also offers FaxStorm SoftModem, a program that enables PCs without modems to send fax data to NetCentric via corporate LANs. See for more information.

The real advantage of faxing via the Internet is that you can use the full speed of your Internet connection. Most fax machines are limited to receiving data at 9.6Kbps or 14.4Kbps. As long as you are sending faxes via the 'net, however, the transmissions move at Ethernet speeds, freeing your computer that much sooner.

Fax machines that can be plugged in to a LAN port would speed up faxing. But such machines don't seem to be in production yet. Somebody let me know when I can buy one.

Brian Livingston is the coauthor of the new Windows 95 Secrets and author of three other Windows books (IDG Books). Send tips to or fax: (206) 282-1248.

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Copyright © 1996 by InfoWorld Publishing Company


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