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General Telephony Blogs

Articles here dig deep into the concerns of the communications industry. Learn about VoIP or the best conference call service for your small business or enterprise. There’s something for everyone.

Cheapest VoIP Phone Service Doesn’t Always Equal Best

Venn Diagram - The Cheapest VoIP Phone Service Isn't Always the BestIt’s no secret that communications providers compete on price. You’d be mistaken, however, if you thought that the cheapest VoIP phone service always equaled the best phone service.

As with most products and services, there is a sweet spot where price and features intersect to form a union. It’s where customers can expect to pay a little more than the bare minimum and, in return, they receive a quality unmatched in the cheaper competition. We try to keep the VirtualPBX Business Phone System in that sweet spot.

It’s worth considering what the cheapest VoIP phone service might award your businesses, and what the best phone service will award you. You will thank yourself, and your customers will thank you, when you don’t just grab the lowest priced item from the shelf.

What Your Dollars Pay For

The cost of your VoIP phone service doesn’t just go toward connecting one phone to another. It’s distributed among a variety of people and places and electronic equipment to keep the entire communications apparatus up and running.

When less money is funneled to those constructs, quality can dip both in your call streams and customer service.

People

VoIP providers come in many sizes. VirtualPBX can be considered a midsize business with a large reach. Its approximately 50 employees help provide service to businesses across the U.S. and into Europe and Asia.

Many VirtualPBX employees work in the States. Its distributed workforce takes care of Sales, Services, Marketing, Product Development, and Management departmental duties – often with individuals crossing from one plane to another.

VirtualPBX EmployeesThere is a balance here between the amount of work required of our individual employees and the prices of our services that help pay our salaries. A drop in cost of our products could mean that fewer people are staffed to provide an equal expected amount of work.

Price can only drop so low before it begins to negatively affect product quality. The cheapest VoIP phone service on the market may border or cross that line of negative effect. It can strain product development; troubleshooting of customer issues; and overall quality of service.

Development could be outsourced to the lowest bidder, who churns out a functional but basic product. Customer service could show huge jumps in hold times without the option for a callback. Overworked sales reps could misinterpret your needs as a business.

Is that something you want to see in the employees who handle your phone system?

Places and Equipment

The central offices of VirtualPBX and all other VoIP providers represent only a small portion of the overall communications network.

For a deep look into how VoIP works, check out our Guide to VoIP and our dive into the Public Switched Telephone Network.

In brief, your calls in a VoIP network reach a number of physical centers, including a VoIP provider’s servers, gateways that transfer calls between packet-switched and circuit-switched networks, and offices like tandem and central offices that route calls to their destinations.

Telephone pole with hundreds of wiresThis mix of wire and computation stretches between VoIP providers and traditional communications providers – like AT&T and CenturyLink.

VirtualPBX and others have agreements with other telecoms so your calls can be routed through their networks. Your monthly payment for service to a VoIP provider, therefore, goes toward the continuation of those relationships and the upkeep of any of the associated properties mentioned above.

With the cheapest VoIP phone service, those relationships between carriers may fluctuate or be less robust. The equipment that handles call transmission might also go without necessary maintenance.

Your calls could then experience unacceptable downtime or low quality. Is that something you want within your communications infrastructure?

To Choose the Cheapest VoIP Phone Service?

If you’re considering subscribing to a new phone plan, keep these ideas in mind. If you decide to spend a little more for your service, you can expect to receive a lot more.

Our dedicated customers are what fuel the powerful set of features included with every VirtualPBX Phone Plan. We first focus on providing exemplary service; then we offer competitive prices.

For us, it’s not a race to the bottom.

Spring Announcement

Why Your Business Should Send Faxes Through Email

Laptop on Desk - Why You Should Send Faxes Through EmailWhile your desktop fax machine may prove a valuable asset to your business, there are a number of compelling reasons why you should send faxes through email.

This isn’t a pitch for the Email-to-Fax Feature that comes with our Business Phone Plans. Set that notion aside for now; just focus on the following aspects of using email as your faxing hub.

The process of sending faxes through email can help you maintain focus through the workday. It can fit within your existing workflow and give you the opportunity to easily track your digital documents.

Want to learn more? Keep reading.

Maintain Your Focus

Even if you run a small office, it’s unlikely that the fax machine sits on your desk. It probably makes its home in the hallway or a small printing room. Maybe it even knows the water cooler by name.

In any case, when you want to send a fax, you have to stand from your desk and walk to the machine. There’s no way around it. You lose time and focus by being forced to exit your workspace to complete the tasks of filling out a cover sheet and feeding papers into the machine.

When you send faxes through email, you can complete those tasks digitally while remaining at your desk.

Think about how email already fits into your workflow. You probably know which browser tab your email is located in, or in which toolbar of your desktop. With muscle memory, you can find a contact and send them an email in only a few minutes.

Email-to-fax services are no different. They work behind the scenes so all you need to do is attach a document and specify a phone number. You don’t need to break your usual stride, and you certainly don’t need to walk away from your desk, because you already know email so well.

Build Fax Documents Into Your Current Workflow

While you’re certainly comfortable sending emails, you’re probably concerned about the usability of fax cover sheets and other fax-specific issues like signatures. Don’t those require pen and paper?

Fax Cover Sheets

There’s an easy way to build digital fax cover sheets into the digital faxing process.

Whenever you want to send faxes through email, start with a document draft that contains your cover sheet. We offer one for download or for use within Google Docs.

You can edit this template to contain your business name, fax number, and other information you want to include with every fax. Your only responsibility then is to personalize the file when you want to send a fax to a client.

Free Fax Cover Sheet Template - VirtualPBX BlogYou can do this from within Google Docs and then download a PDF. Or you can edit the document in your preferred desktop or mobile editor.

Starting with a cover sheet template is essential because that part of the final faxed document marks the subsequent pages as your own. With your business name, number, etc. already in place, you save yourself a few precious minutes every time you need to email your fax papers.

Digital Signing

When you fax important documents like receipts and invoices, they may require signatures. How do you handle those in a digital environment?

You can approach signed digital faxing in a few ways. Remember here that the final step of sending faxes through email is that you attach a PDF doc or TIFF image to your email.

Before you attach the to-be-faxed document to your email, you can sign it with a proprietary service like DocuSign.

You can also sign documents on your laptop’s trackpad with the Preview program on Mac or through various other programs on Windows, iOS, Android, and browser plugins that let you sign by trackpad, stylus, and mouse.

With the appropriate software, you can easily sign any PDF you want to fax.

Save Money and Paper

Consider also that many of your workplace activities are already dedicated to saving money and resources.

Your digital life may include services like online chat software, collaborative document editors, and internet-connected phone systems. These workplace mainstays help save your office money by consolidating your bills and allowing individuals to complete tasks from any location.

They let employees do more work, more quickly, from any location.

Digital faxing is no different in that it immediately saves your company money and resources. You will have one less physical machine to maintain. You’ll use less paper. You can tie an email-to-fax program into your phone service.

From a maintainability and cost-savings standpoint, digital faxing makes sense.

Simple, Effective Tracking

Digital faxing also provides you with the opportunity to better track your sent and received documents. You can do this by using a central location for all your faxed digital papers.

On your desktop, create a folder labeled Faxes. Then, inside that folder, create three subfolders: Sent, Received, and Drafts.

  • Drafts: We’ve already discussed what type of documents you’ll store in the Drafts folder. That will be your location for templates that include your fax cover sheet. Your first step when you send faxes through email will be either your Drafts folder or your Google Docs account (or similar online word processor). From there, you can copy the template and work on that draft before sending.
  • Sent: When you open your email software and send the fax you just finalized, you can move that PDF draft to the Sent folder. Organize it by title or by further subfolders – whichever works best for you.
  • Received: The faxes you receive through an Email-to-Fax service will land in your email’s inbox as attached PDFs. Upon receipt, you can save those attachments to your Received folder.

If you keep up with this process, you won’t ever have to ask yourself, “Did I send that fax?” again.

Send Faxes Through Email

Woman Dancing to Music While Listening on HeadphonesDitch the desktop fax machine, at least for a little while.

When you begin using a digital faxing system, you can stay focused on important tasks. You can make sure faxing fits within your daily workflow. And you can track all your faxed documents both sent and received.

The only potential loss here is the BREEEP BROPPPPP SQUEEEEEEEEK sound your ancient fax machine makes. Don’t worry, the link above has you covered for any time you need the soothing, scratching sound of a traditional fax.

How Can I Send a Fax From Email?

Ream of paper - How Can I Send a Fax From Email?It isn’t enough to tell you that VirtualPBX offers an Email-to-Fax service. You want to know, truly and in detail, How can I send a fax from email?

Look no further than this step-by-step guide about how to prepare your documents and setup a workflow for digital faxing.

In the following sections, we’ll discuss the structure of a fax email, document types required for sending, and a few ways in which you can speed up the faxing process.

Structure of a Fax Email

There are only two parts to a fax email: The Recipient Address and the Email Attachment.

Both are easy to prepare with a practiced hand. Today, we’ll do a little research in your VirtualPBX Business Phone System account to get you up to speed.

Recipient Address

When you send a fax from email, the To: field of your email will need to contain an address that looks, for example, like 11234567890@kfa2t2j.sip.virtualpbx.net.

The structure is similar to other email addresses like marketing@virtualpbx.com. It follows the structure of recipient’s-phone-number@your-account-realm, so the example address above would send a fax from a VirtualPBX account to the phone number 1(123)456-7890.

You can find your own Account Realm address on the right-hand side of the dashboard of your VirtualPBX account. It looks like the image shown here.

Sending a Fax - VirtualPBX Email-to-FaxYour Account Realm will look different from the one shown above. It’s unique to your own account, and you use it every time you send a fax from email.

All that’s left is to plug in your recipient’s phone number.

Email Attachment

Your fax email won’t need a message. Instead, you attach a document to the email. Then VirtualPBX recognizes the document and faxes its pages to your recipient.

For instance, if you attached a PDF of an invoice with a cover sheet, it would send that two-page document as a regular fax to the destination phone number you provided.

Any text you include in the body of your email should be ignored when your fax is sent. Make sure everything you want to say is in your attached file.

The only caveat here is that you need to attach the correct type of file. Keep reading.

Document Types Required for Sending

VirtualPBX only accepts two distinct types of files as attachments in this situation: PDF and TIFF.

We can’t get into the particulars of every computer program here. However, many computer programs can save or export files to the PDF and TIFF formats.

Download to PDF in Google DocsPDF

The Portable Document Format (PDF) is widely used and can carry both text and images as your faxed document. The image here shows how you can create a PDF in Google Docs.

In that case, you navigate in your main toolbar to File -> Download as -> PDF Document (.pdf).

If you choose to use the VirtualPBX Free Fax Cover Sheet (linked in the previous section), you can add pages to that file and save the entire document as a PDF from within Google Docs.

The process for other programs like Microsoft Word, LibreOffice, OpenOffice, and others will follow a similar pattern.

In a pinch, you can also use your web browser’s Print function to save websites and other documents viewable in Firefox, Chrome, Safari, IE, and Edge. Just navigate to File -> Print… and select Print to File before selecting your file name (with .pdf extension) and download location.

Print to File MenuTIFF

The Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) is used by many graphic artists for its flexibility. It’s an excellent choice for sending as an fax email attachment if you only want to send an image.

Many image editors like Adobe Photoshop can save files as TIFFs.

With Photoshop you would choose File -> Save As… and then select TIFF from the Format menu.

Again, a similar process should occur with other programs, including the open source GIMP image editor, where you can select either Save or Export from the File menu to create a TIFF.

Speed Up Your Faxing Process

The best way to speed up this process is to make everything in your workflow standardized.

  1. Stick with a single program. Whether you send many text-based or image-based faxes, pick your favorite program for creating your fax documents. Then learn its document export process well.

    You may choose Google Docs because you can access it from anywhere. Its save-to-PDF process is also simple and straightforward. Once you’ve done it a few times, you can do it quickly and without thinking.

  2. Always export PDFs or TIFFs to the same directory. Regardless of the program you use, save its files to the same directory. This will make it simple to find your faxes when you import them into an email.

  3. Save your VirtualPBX Account Realm as an email contact. You can create a special contact in your address book for easy access. Using the example from earlier, you could create fax@kfa2t2j.sip.virtualpbx.net as a new contact.

    Then when you search your address book, you can simply replace the word fax in the address for your recipient’s fax number. That way, you don’t have to remember and type your Account Realm for every fax you send.

Now You Can Send a Fax From Email

If you’re not already a VirtualPBX customer, the steps above provide a good outline of the fax email process. They also shed some light on the processes you might see in your current digital faxing service.

Those guidelines, however, are no replacement for the information provided in our Faxing Support document. Once you’re a VirtualPBX Email-to-Fax user, you can find a breakdown of our dashboard and instructions for prerequisites like adding a fax number to your account.

We want to make faxing as easy for you as possible. Speak to a Sales rep today if you’re looking for a new, powerful phone and faxing platform for your business.

From Email to Fax Machine, How Does Digital Faxing Work?

Copy Machine in Office - From Email to Fax MachineThe process of sending a file from email to fax machine goes by many names: Email-to-fax, digital faxing, virtual faxing, internet faxing, and fax-over-IP (FoIP).

VirtualPBX offers an Email-to-Fax service with all its Business Phone Plans. It lets you send email attachments to client fax machines by simply emailing a special address (like 12345556789@marketing.sip.virtualpbx.com). It also accepts faxes and delivers the pages as attachments to your email inbox.

This article will demystify the email to fax machine process. Keep reading to get a brief lesson in analog and digital faxing, the protocols that define communication between fax machines, and the necessity of fax servers and software for modern email-to-fax procedures.

The Fun History of Faxing

Faxing has had a fun and complicated history. Early machines used synchronized pendulums that stood eight feet tall to record messages onto electrically-sensitive paper. Further inventions harnessed light-sensitive paper. And eventually technology progressed to shrink fax machines to desk size and allow them to print on ordinary computer paper.

We offer a brief timeline of the fax machine on our blog, which references the first relevant faxing patent made in 1843. There’s also an excellent episode of The Secret Life of Machines that provides a deeper look into the devices described above.

Running on the PSTN

This article veers from those links by starting a discussion about the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). The detailed guide linked here, titled “What is VoIP?” mentions the PSTN as part of the whole of VoIP telephony.

The most salient examples of the PSTN are the telephone poles and copper wires that line your streets. Although those structures have existed for some time, they are an essential part of residential and business communications because they often create a direct connection between an home or office and the global phone and internet network.

Telephone PoleFaxing, like phone calls, used to take place entirely through copper wires. There was no internet; all communication was analog.

With the advent of the internet and digital communications fixtures – such as digital servers and fiber optic cable – both voice services and faxing changed. Faxes that used to make their way entirely through a series of copper and analog assets began to see less of that infrastructure. They started to run through parts of the internet, which required the development of codecs.

Meanwhile, individuals started to want more functionality in their devices. They sought services like sending email to fax machines and connecting fax machines to VoIP networks. Customer demand grew for more flexible and convenient services, so the standards of the digital world met the analog world where it stood.

Digital Faxing With Codecs and Protocols

We can again reference our What is VoIP? guide when mentioning the development of codecs and protocols.

The word “codec” is a portmanteau of coder-decoder. It refers to the coding and decoding of information.

In the context of voice signals that travel over digital networks, codecs like G.711 and G.729 transform voice signals that you speak into your phone. VoIP codecs turn sounds into digital signals for outgoing transmissions, and they turn digital signals into sounds for incoming transmissions. They make digital voice communication possible by making information understandable by humans.

Protocols like SIP and H.323 provide specific instructions for how one VoIP device can reach another. For instance, they might define how a VoIP gateway can reach an IP phone.

Similarly, standards developed by the International Telecommunication Union such as T.37 and T.38 were created to organize faxing protocols across the digital infrastructure of IP networks.

T.37

The T.37 protocol’s official title describes the problem it addresses: “Procedures for the transfer of facsimile data via store-and-forward on the internet.”

What this means is that T.37 describes how fax machines can send faxes directly to an email address. When you scan a document with a T.37-compliant fax machine, it converts the fax into a TIFF image and transfers that image to the email address you specify.

This procedure defines how a fax machine can send a stand-alone document to an email address. It also provides instructions for how the fax machine can interact with a fax server to communicate with an ordinary fax machine.

In the latter case, the server could convert emails to regular faxes and vice versa.

This is all collectively referred to as the “store-and-forward” technique – as shown in its title.

T.38

The title of T.38 brings real-time communication into the mix: “Procedures for real-time Group 3 facsimile communication over IP networks.”

This protocol defines the standard for allowing two ordinary fax machines to communicate over IP networks.

Ordinary fax machines use the ITU’s T.30 specification to send faxes to each other. T.38 acts as a subset of T.30.

From fax machine, through the PSTN and a digital IP network, to a second fax machine:

  1. Fax Machine 1 sends an analog signal to the PSTN
  2. The PSTN relays that signal to a Fax Server 1
  3. Fax Server 1 converts the analog signal to digital packets
  4. Fax Server 1 sends the digital packets through an IP network to Fax Server 2
  5. Fax Server 2 converts the digital packets back to an analog signal
  6. Fax Server 2 relays the analog signal to the PSTN
  7. The PSTN sends the analog signal to Fax Machine 2

Digital Faxing Diagram

From the vantage point of the specifications, T.38 becomes relevant at the end of Step 2 and persists until the beginning of Step 6.

The PSTN plays a primary role in this process. But you can see in Steps 2 through 6 where the IP network takes command where the PSTN once did all the work.

Fax Server

The two fax servers listed in the previous example are essential to connecting two fax machines over an IP network.

A fax server would be used by a service provider like VirtualPBX to let the PSTN “speak” to the digital network. It knows both the PSTN and IP languages.

This server might also be called a fax gateway. It’s typically a piece of software that uses T.38 standards to send, receive, and convert fax messages.

Email-to-Fax DemonstrationFrom Email to Fax Machine

It’s at this point that you can understand how a service like VirtualPBX’s Email-to-Fax works.

With fax servers as the central point, web services and client software can link a VoIP service to a fax machine.

VirtualPBX’s web portal lets you send an email with a TIFF or PDF attachment to a fax number. When you do that, you send the attachment to VirtualPBX’s fax server that completes all the processes described above. It also does this in reverse when receiving a fax.

As a customer, most of this is invisible. The protocols and standards of the modern VoIP and faxing ecosystem make the email to fax machine process simple and reliable. A cutting-edge business can communicate entirely through email with any traditional faxing holdouts.

Thanks for sticking through this guide. We hope you learned a lot about a process you probably use every day. If nothing else, now you can send your email-faxes with the cover sheet message: “I know how this works!”

New Survey Report Offers Insight Into Robocall Issue, STIR/SHAKEN

Two People Shaking Hands - STIR/SHAKEN Protocol to Combat RobocallsOur guest post today comes courtesy of Riley Panko, a Senior Content Writer at Clutch, a B2B research, ratings, and reviews firm in Washington, D.C. VirtualPBX’s Content Specialist Casey Houser contributed to the report, providing industry context.

Robocalls are a growing nuisance, disrupting legitimate communication on both individual and businesses phone networks.

Americans received a shocking 48 billion robocalls in 2018.

Clutch recently conducted a study of nearly 700 people who receive robocalls to understand the steps they are taking to combat them.

The report found that 67% of people are unlikely to pick up a phone call from an unknown number. Experts say robocalls erode trust in phone-based communication.

The survey also reveals that the National Do Not Call Registry is ineffective for the majority of those that sign up. New technology will seek to actively validate legitimate phone calls to combat robocalls, as opposed to just retroactively punishing offenders.

Clutch Study GraphNational Do Not Call Registry Ineffective Over Time

More than two-thirds of those that signed up for the National Do Not Call Registry say that it’s ineffective – 49 percent say they receive the same amount of robocalls and 19 percent say they receive more robocalls.

The National Do Not Call Registry was first implemented in 2003 with live telemarketing in mind.

Nowadays, though, most robocalls are automated. This means that robocallers can call a huge number of people in a short period of time, with a human only required when someone actually picks up and takes action on the robocall.

Automated robocallers don’t have much incentive to not call the people on the Do Not Call list – enforcement of the list has been limited.

This is increasingly true as robocallers become harder to track down. The rise of “spoofing” allows robocallers to use VoIP technology to trick caller ID into displaying any number. This means that many people do not know who is actually calling them, and where they might be located.

STIR/SHAKEN Will Actively Validate Legitimate Calls

The future of robocall protection requires a proactive approach.

The Federal Communications Commission supports the implementation of two initiatives known as the “Secure Telephone Identity Revisited” (STIR) standard and the “Signature-based Handling of Asserted information using toKENs” (SHAKEN) standard. Together, they are known as STIR/SHAKEN.

This technology checks all incoming phone calls for the presence of a certificate, distributed by a trusted policy administrator. If the number contains the certificate, then the call will be validated. This may be displayed on caller ID with a check mark, similar to how Twitter verifies accounts.

VirtualPBX applauds the adoption of STIR/SHAKEN.

“We actively support new anti-spam measures such as SHAKEN/STIR that create a traceable, encrypted phone connection between caller and receiver,” said Casey Houser, Content Specialist at VirtualPBX. “This new tech made a big splash recently with the FCC and large telecoms, and its adoption throughout the telecommunications market should mark a large decrease in the amount of spam callers receive.”

So Far, Only T-Mobile is Ready

The FCC recently pushed for major telecom providers to be ready to adopt the two standards. As of early 2019, only T-Mobile announced they were ready for implementation.

Robocalls will not be stopped with traditional preventative practices. STIR/SHAKEN may be a glimmer of hope in a world overrun with robocalls.