• UK regulator Ofcom is consulting on removing fax services from the UK’s universal service obligation (USO) for BT and KCOM.
• Once a core feature of office life, the history of fax machines goes way back, but they are set to be consigned to tech history.
The facsimile (fax) machine was ubiquitous in offices from the 1980s through the end of the 20th century, but the impact of email, the world wide web, and the relentless rise of unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) platforms is set to witness the demise of a technology that served users well in analog days (as long as there was paper and ink in the machine, no blockages, and not someone else using it already).
Alexander Bain received a British patent in 1843 for his ‘electronic printing telegraph.’ In 1924, AT&T Corporation ‘sent photos by telephone,’ and Western Union launched its ‘desk-fax’ machine in 1948 using special paper. Xerox is credited with what is recognized as the first commercialized modern fax machine in 1964 and, over time, fax capabilities were increasingly incorporated in single, multi-function devices that also enabled the scanning and copying of documents and photos. A period of fax servers then marked the increasing substitution of traditional machines by exploiting early value-added features using email. The longevity of fax was subsequently supported by legal non-recognition of electronic signatures across multiple countries, but now this is rarely the case, and such signatures have been broadly accepted as genuine and legally binding.
However, after many years, it looks like UK fax services may finally be coming to an end (alongside pagers) of which both markets are dominated by the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) – make of that what you will. Following a consultation from Ofcom, the UK Parliament has removed fax services from the USO in the face of the migration of communications to all-IP platforms. As a result, machines that were once at the cutting edge of office technology and business functions will soon be on the scrapheap. Many people will say ‘good riddance,’ but for folks with email inboxes bursting at the seams, there may be some sense of nostalgia.