back to article UK comms regulator rings death knell for fax machines

UK communications regulator Ofcom is consulting on whether it should end the requirement for telecommunications companies to support the services necessary to send faxes. It has launched a review of the universal service obligation (USO) under which telcos are required to provide fax services. BT and KCOM, the remnant of a …

  1. GlenP Silver badge

    Can somebody tell our bank about this?

    They insist on sending payment advice documents by fax and not by any other means so we have to maintain a fax-to-email connection.

    1. awavey

      That's because faxes have a status as a legal document, that not all (in case I've forgotten one that does) electronic communication equivalents do not...yet

      1. adam 40 Silver badge

        Email does have legal status. But you need to retail the full headers etc.

        1. DuncanLarge Silver badge

          > Email does have legal status. But you need to retail the full headers etc.

          Its all data, it can all be faked. Somehow you have to prove the headers are genuine but most likely they just say they will accept them as genuine so that they can move on with the case.

          1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

            Re: Its all data, it can all be faked

            The great thing about email if you're running your own mail server is that your transcript will complement that at the other end in the same way that a Telex would. (Yes, I know, trying to get the counterpart from gmail or Microsoft will be fraught, but at least my ass is covered).

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Its all data, it can all be faked

              Three words:

              Delivery status notification.

              (no, not disposition notification)

          2. DS999 Silver badge

            So can faxes

            Giving email legal status doesn't create any additional room for fraudsters. Heck email probably creates less of a problem because if providers do long term retention of message IDs they can at least authenticate that an email was sent at a given time. If the record includes a cryptographic signature of the message content (not encrypted, just a signature) then it could be verified that the email body presented has not been tampered with.

            With faxes you have no such logging, and no way to know that someone didn't mess with the bitmap.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Here we have email with legal status - but you have to go through special accounts on government-approved server that do sign and timestamp messages.

            Today with fax you have only the telephone call registration - everything else can be easily faked too, today.

          4. Tom 7 Silver badge

            TBF Fax data is easily faked too.

          5. katrinab Silver badge

            Faxes can be faked as well though

      2. Ian Johnston Silver badge

        I thought only telexes were legally binding.

        1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          I thought only telexes were legally binding.

          The delightful Mr Ree Smogg would probably prefer that only either pigeon-delivered messages or those written by a scribe upon virgin vellum then hand-delivered by an urchin delivery boy would qualify..

          Or possibly by cuniform tablet, twice baked and left to harden for at least a year.

          Unless there is money involved (going to him) in which case he doesn't care.

      3. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        That's because faxes have a status as a legal document, that not all (in case I've forgotten one that does) electronic communication equivalents do not...yet
        Probably because some utter luddite lawyer couldn't understand that a fax transmission is not in any way trustworthy even though it's magic and a horrible copy of a document comes out of a magic box. That faxes are considerably less secure than email has ever been is something entirely lost on these kind of people.

        If it weren't for lockdown I suspect lawyers up and down the country would be protesting about the removal of this archaic technology.

        1. heyrick Silver badge

          Given this is a legal thing, it was probably designed in the day when a fax meant shoving a piece of paper into a machine and hoping that it didn't chew it up as it trundled slowly through.

          In this case, a signature on a fax would be a direct copy of the actual signature on the original paper, thus the alleged "legal weight".

          The rest of the world caught up, overtook, and now it's possibly to fire off a PDF with an embedded graphic of a signature at a high enough resolution that the only difference between it and the original is the lack of indent on the paper...

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > That's because faxes have a status as a legal document, that not all (in case I've forgotten one that does) electronic communication equivalents do not...yet

        This has not been the case in the EU for many years. The eIDAS Regulation harmonised the union's legal framework for electronic documents and signatures in 2016, but was preceded by the eSignatured Directive in 1999. It has been over two decades since we all sat down and agreed electronic communications can carry the same weight as any other.

        The communication probably can't be email, because email is woefully insecure, but it can and these days almost invariably is some form of web portal like Docusign or something homebrewed.

        Organisations handling faxes in 2022 are just flipping weird.

        1. dajames

          ... some form of web portal like Docusign ...

          Docusign, as far as I can tell from the limited information that Docusign themselves admit to on their website, depends on Docusign agreeing that a user agreed to sign a document, and Docusign themselves adding a name in cursive script to a PDF.

          So, if Alice wants Bob to sign a document she uploades a PDF to Docusign and provides Bob's EMail address.

          Bob follows the link in the EMail. Docusign ask him to create an account (if he doesn't already have one) and to log in. There is NO security in this process.

          Docusign then show Bob a document they say is the one Alice uploaded. They could be lying. Bob agrees to sign it and provides the name he'd like to sign with. Docusign add that name, in a cursive font so the world can see that it's a 'real' signature, to the PDF. There is NO security in this process.

          As far as I can tell there is NO cryptography in this. The "electronic signature" created by Docusign is not a digital signature as we would understand it. There is certainly NOT any RSA or DSA private key that is in Bob's possession and nobody else's.

          If someone later challenges the signed document, the only way to prove that it is genuine is to ask Docusign, who will confirm that someone claiming to be Bob logged into an account that was created on-the-fly for Bob and agreed to the contents of the document. That is, if Docusign haven't gone bust by then, as they richly deserve to do if their service is really based upon such snake oil.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            >The "electronic signature" created by Docusign is not a digital signature as we would understand it.


            Yes. We know. That's why it's called an electronic signature and not a digital signature. This is something that both the e-Signature Directive and eIDAS regulation make explicitly clear. They're different things for different jobs. A digital signature can be used for authentication, verification and non-repudiation but you need some scheme within the information being signed to signal agreement and to bind the digital signature to a specific information item, and to reliably link the digital signer to a legal person or entity. That is the difference between an electronic signature - a set of standards allowing one to signal approval (or not) to a document - and the cryptographic digital signature you're thinking of.

            There are significant and effective layers of security in e-signature systems, defined in the eIDAS standards. Just because your five-minutes-skimming-a-vendor's-website level of expertise doesn't identify them doesn't mean they're not there, no matter how loudly you want to shout "no security" at the top of your lungs. For example, all the "signatures" are document-instance specific, they're all cryptographically verified, they're all audited and can, should the need arise, be coupled with an identity verification service provided by experian/barclays/entrust/whoever. Compared to slinging a piece of paper through the post or down a piece of copper it is infinitely more secure and scalable, which is why electronic signatures and digital contract execution are standard practice across industry.

    2. Plest Silver badge

      Yep, lost count of the number of fax software kludges I've had to support over the last 20 years all 'cos financial services companies still insist on transferring certain docs over fax protocols.

      The utterly stupid thing that gets me is that we send emails to an internal emial address with phone number, which is a PDF-to-fax converter, send them over TCP/IP to another fax software kludge at the other end that converts them back into PDFs and attaches the bloody things to an email!! FFS!

      1. Snake Silver badge

        RE: fax requirements

        It is not just financial services, it is also (in the U.S.) medical records and providers.

        And there's a reason, of course, and I've said it before to the denial (and downvotes) of people here: only a fax transmission has a [reasonable] level of trail of custody on the data. What comes out a fax machine at the receiving end is, reasonably assumed, to be what went in on the other side.

        We can't say that with any certainty digitally, it can be intercepted and / or modified far easier.

        1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

          Re: RE: fax requirements

          only a fax transmission has a [reasonable] level of trail of custody on the data
          No, it does not. A fax transmission is entirely opaque and relies solely on trust. If you were to mistakenly fax a document to me I could edit the document and retransmit it to your intended recipient with changes included and there is absolutely no way that the recipient would know this has happened this unless you communicated directly and separately and compared copies.

          I suspect your point is that a fax is a point-to-point protocol which is true and as long as there is no interception along the way, is all fine. But the process is entirely trust based. I could send a fax purporting to come from you or from your doctor or lawyer and you would not have any evidence that it came from anywhere else other than independently checking the content of the message. I know this is the same as post but at least with post there is a physical copy to check and not a digital copy that can be recreated and amended and for serious legal documentation there is a reason why seals are still used.

        2. Justthefacts Silver badge

          Re: RE: fax requirements

          You get denial, because it is an *urban myth* that fax has some mystical legal standing, or chain of custody. It does not.

          Unfortunately a number of *not legally trained* people in the Finance industry have a memory that someone told them, who in turn etc. And they are so spineless that however many lawyers tell them they are wrong, they continue the mythology because they don’t want to be blamed.

          If you think I’m wrong, quote relevant case law supporting your case. You can’t, because there is none. If you actually read Brinkibon Ltd v Stahag Stahl GmbH 1982, it doesn’t say anything like people outside the legal profession claim it does.The following two points are true:

          For a document to be legally binding, it must be able to be authenticated to 100% accuracy. This requires - proof of transmission (which *can* be assured on email if done by procedure), proof that the receiver has received (over email, as simple as echoing back the original, by procedure), inability to repudiate (standard public-key hashing). Or just use any of the half-dozen e-signature services that provide these functions natively.

          For some contracts, only wet signature is allowed, and *fax doesn’t avoid that*. And for a very simple reason. Contracts above the stamp duty threshold (which applies to more than property) require a physical HMRC stamp. That’s it. That’s the requirement. Not all contracts are of the type that require Stamp Duty. Those that don’t, can be signed and completed over email.. Those that do, can be signed but not completed (ownership transfer is contracted, but doesn’t pass until HMRC are paid) over either email or fax. That’s the law. Your company procedures can require whatever they damn well please, but it’s nothing to do with the law.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: RE: fax requirements

            > Contracts above the stamp duty threshold (which applies to more than property) require a physical HMRC stamp. That’s it. That’s the requirement.

            This hasn't been the law in decades, and even then only applied to a pretty narrow set of transaction types. The only stamp duties extant in the UK this side of the millennium have been the SDLT on real property that we all know and love, and the SDRT paid on the transfers of shares. Both have always been reported electronically.

            English law deems anything that looks, smells and is mutually agreed to be a contract to be deemed a contract. Fully executed, physical paper in triplicate stored in your corporate archive? Contract. Scrawled in red pen on a sheet of paper? Contract. Agreed verbally? Contract.

            Almost all of the things about contents being "legally binding" are pure, unadulterated myths. Faxes were popular simply because prior to the mid 90s they were the only way to send documents reliably between organisations other than courier.

      2. DuncanLarge Silver badge


        Look mate, we have not secured email yet and you think it replaces fax? Email has failed to replace fax simply because there are some things that you MUST be able to prove you sent, must be able to prove is unmodified and must try to keep private.

        By using phone lines, which are not easy for anyone to tap into, fax retained its hold on these factors. The fact that a fax machine sends a line by line representation of the original is also important, the very act of sending is akin to photocopying, just the copy prints out in real time remotely. Thus you can PROVE that the original and copy are the same because the copy at the remote end can only be a copy of the original as you couldn't have modified the transmission in transit.

        Email however lacks most of those features. That is why PGP and GNUPG were created. They add security via encryption as well as a confirmation of an unmodified message by adding a signature to it.

        Plain email does none of that. Headers cant be trusted, neither can the email body, all modifiable by anyone or any code at any time. Compared to fax email is like sending a postcard. Fax might not add an envelope around the document, its more like having a secure courier deliver the message. GPG would certainly be akin to a letter in an envelope, one that cant be steamed open too.

        So. You want everyone to email a PDF of their passport. I had to do just that recently to start the onboarding process for a new job. In 2022, I had to send my sensitive identity documents in clear text email. I had to do in in 2012 as well when getting a solicitor sorted for a house purchase, in 2012 I could understand it but 2022?

        Until we fix email fax will win over it. But simply for convenience we have all decided we want to just ignore the issues and think "it will all be fine". Just sweep the concerns under the carpet.

        1. Justthefacts Silver badge

          Nobody is suggesting that….

          Nobody is suggesting to use plain email, unauthenticated by other means, to replace legal faxes. That’s a strawman.

          Fax is trivial to forge anyway. It was one of the first games that original Phreakers played half a century ago. A fun pastime was to make fax machines play tunes in the office, and you don’t want to be caught at it, so the fax has to look as if it comes from the boss.

        2. heyrick Silver badge

          Downvote because back in the late '90s, we used to get junkmail faxes. The little sender ID number printed at the top? Our number.

          Given these documents were received and stored on a harddisc as a TIFF image, tell me what is to stop me pixel editing the image to say something different, then tossing it to an old paper based fax machine and saying "this is what was received"?

          Probably pointless for an advert, but could be interesting if it's making subtle edits to a signed contract, or something.

          Fax is believed to be "secure" because it is point to point and you know that something somewhere received the copy in real time, which makes it a lot harder to fake or fudge, but not impossible.

    3. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

      Re: Can somebody tell our bank about this?

      Update the fax number by giving them your Telex number.

  2. DailyLlama

    Much loved???

    By who?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Much loved???

      I worked for a company that had a 1-800 fax number and the amount of wrong numbers that called it was laughable. In the 2 years I worked there during the 90's it received nearly 2000 faxes ranging from tax forms to divorce papers even with custody agreements. Occasionally there was one of those mysterious love letters or treasure riddles or children's homework or pictures of just feet! Good times.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Much loved???

        We moved into a new office and connected the fax machine up to an available line.

        Turned out the 'new' phone number originally belonged to a fax machine for the research dept at a nearby hospital and we would occasionally get multipage documents from other researchers in far flung places that still had that number in their little black book.

        We eventually got the number changed and did try to get them to put a long time block on it's reuse, but who knows... someone, somewhere locally, could be receiving strange warbling calls at all hours

    2. spider from mars

      Re: Much loved???


      Old people in Japan don't trust email, and it's still a country where if it's not written down on a piece of paper somewhere, it doesn't exist. Also, the requirement to sign things with a physical stamp.

      (not really relevant for the UK, I realise)

      1. Loyal Commenter

        Re: Much loved???

        It's called a hanko, and to be fair, is probably no more or less suitable as a means of authentication than signing your name on something, as if your signature is somehow magical and inviolable.

    3. ChoHag Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Re: Much loved???

      Normal people, who use computers because they have to not because they want to.

      What's not to like about "specify the destination and press send" as a UI?

      It's difficult to take the technology churn seriously if you're in an industry where you might have to hold people's insides in or explain to the remaining loved ones that the email server refused to accept your captcha and so granny's no longer with us.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Much loved???

        What's not to like about "specify the destination and press send" as a UI?

        Do you want a list?

        1. The UI isn't that easy. The other end might not pick up, might be busy, or you might have the phone number instead of the fax. The machine then tries it 3 or 5 times and gives up. You come back to the machine an hour later, nothing's been sent.

        2. Your machine might decide to malfunction and chew up your original (and maybe only) copy.

        3. Your original might have a dirty scanner, and so cover half the page you sent in black. Seeing as you don't get to see what was sent, you don't know unless you're told.

        4. The receiving machine may have a dodgy printer and do the same.

        5. The receiving machine is out of ink, so just pushes some blank pages through and then tells the sending machine all is fine.

        6. The receiving machine is out of paper. Hopefully it has memory, and when someone puts new paper in it next week, it'll print out your fax amongst 200 others. Or only have memory of 30 pages and so miss yours entirely.

        7. The receiving machine is randomly crap in some other way you can't control and have no way of knowing.

        8. The receiving machine is in a locked room with a sign on the door saying, "beware of the leopard." Nobody has entered said room for 50 years.

        9. The receiving machine has been placed on top of a filing cabinet. Don't argue, it always has. A massive, heavy, metal thing that you could use to block the door in case of a zombie apocalypse. If you could actuallly move it. The paper tray on the fax hasn't had the little thing pulled up to stop the paper just sliding down the back of said immovable object. Your fax is now somewhere between the wall and the filing cabinet, along with 100 other sad, missing faxes now lost to history.


        I fucking hate faxes! I danced a happy jig the day I left the job where I had to use the damned things all the time. Back in the 90s, when lots of people in offices still didn't have email - even fewer had access to a scanner to digitise something they didn't already have on the computer, and men were real men. And small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri...

        Shame on El Reg for using the phrase much loved. Boooooo! Resign!

        Breathe... And relax... Rant over, I am heading off the corner to whimper quietly until the flashbacks go away. Don't mind me. Feel free to poke me if I start screaming again.

        1. I could be a dog really

          Re: Much loved???

          Your original might have a dirty scanner

          Given that when fax was still popular, so was Tipex (other correction fluids available), I have not so fond memories of cleaning the now set solid stuff from the scanners of faxes and copiers because some twonk didn't wait for it to be properly dry.

      2. GrahamRJ

        Re: Much loved???

        "Normal people"? I'm a child of the 80s and 90s, and I can state as fact that the only "normal people" who had their own fax machine at home were running a small business from home. No-one else ever did - they were expensive to buy, expensive to run, and there was no reason whatsoever to do it. So even back in the 80s and 90s, anyone who owned a fax machine just for fun was automatically not a "normal person". In 2022? They're either someone who wasn't normal in the 80s/90s and still isn't, or they're someone cosplaying 80s/90s which also isn't normal.

        I'm not sure how you get from sending a fax to killing someone's granny either. If your granny's life depends on getting a fax through, you're starring in a Saw movie and someone's playing with you. You for damn sure aren't working in any medical profession.

  3. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    How about another update?

    So that we get to hear, "UK communications regulator Ofcom is consulting on whether it should end the requirement for telecommunications companies to support the services necessary to send viruses and malware."

    1. Jedit Silver badge

      "the services necessary to send viruses and malware"

      So, erm, any data connection? Or am I missing something very obvious here?

      1. andy gibson

        Re: "the services necessary to send viruses and malware"

        I'm missing it too. The only thing our works fax used to get was loads of business spam - especially for car leasing.

        1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

          Re: "the services necessary to send viruses and malware"

          Yep. There was a lot appreciation given when I set up a computerised fax receipt service. The administrator no longer had to daily replace the fax rolls/paper/ink because of the nightly load of spam that came through usually swamping anything that we actually wanted to come through. Instead they could preview the page and delete the spam without it costing us money to receive it (wasted paper/ink aside from lost real faxes) and forward on any genuine faxes using email to whoever in the organisation needed them.

  4. f4ff5e1881

    Hasta la vista, Faxy

    I recall, earlier in my career, that I had a monthly task that involved sending a three page fax to about 10 shipping companies, in various locations around the world. The one going to Algeria I knew would always be a pain, as it would take about four or five tries before the damned thing would eventually go. The whole process would take a couple of hours, standing at the fax machine (with legs getting increasingly stiff) and sometimes I’d have to give up on a number that wouldn’t connect, and try again the next day.

    So imagine my delight when email came along, and I was able to set up a ‘mail-merge’ from Word to Outlook, and the job was reduced to about 10 minutes of blissful pointing and clicking, from the comfort of my desk.

    Suffice to say that the fax machine was a component of my working life for a few years, but it’s not something I miss or regard with particular fondness.

    1. GlenP Silver badge

      Re: Hasta la vista, Faxy

      Around 30 years ago the company I worked for was doing a deal with India. The entire contract had to be faxed to us, in one go, all 96 pages, they were adamant they couldn't send it in sections.

      After about the fifth attempt, and it getting late in the evening, we came up with a cunning plan. As we'd got over half of the contract we asked them to fax it in reverse order, which they did. We still didn't get it all in one go but at least we had all the pages and could just put them together. The other end were happy that they'd sent it "all at once" ignoring the error report.

      I really don't miss faxes!

    2. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: Hasta la vista, Faxy

      Back in the day, I did tech stuff for a company selling overseas property. More than a few agents used to send us property details and photographs by fax. We had no luck trying to explain that sending a photograph by fax was an extraordinarily poor idea, but...

      This was the day when my 14k4 modem was cutting edge, my "email" was Fidonet, and I think Demon was in it's infancy, with most people having no idea what the internet was. So, yeah, fax and posting floppies was how data usually got from here to there.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Hasta la vista, Faxy

      "So imagine my delight when email came along, and I was able to set up a ‘mail-merge’ from Word to Outlook, and the job was reduced to about 10 minutes of blissful pointing and clicking, from the comfort of my desk."

      You were luck if all your recipients also had or got email at the same time as you did,

      I was dealing with a client in the shipping business some years ago who not only were dealing with clients by email in the main, some still using faxes but even one somewhere in Africa that still had only Telex. There was an ancients PC (an IBM PC-XT IIRC) with a Telex card in it just for dealing with that customer. Luckily, because it was never switched off, it just ran and ran for years. I think I replaced the PSU once. Not sure how far back that was, but it was in the very early 2000's :-)

  5. jollyboyspecial Silver badge

    I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that the NHS still send a high volume of faxes. After all they kept using pagers long after everybody else stopped.

    1. Caver_Dave Silver badge


      They still do use them in at least one Hospital my eldest has worked in recently, when on-call for multiple wards on the night shift.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. Ozan

          Re: Pagers

          Similarly beepers still going for doctors. They sure get a signal deep in the hospital.

      2. bonkers

        Re: Pagers

        Pagers are still in regular use at all big hospitals.

        They emit no RF, so are safe next to ECG's, EEG's, and they guarantee to cover right into the depths of the building.

        By a similar token, faxes are a simple, well-understood backup between pharmacies, hospitals, GP's and the like.

        They have an extremely low "attack surface" and do not require schooling in the many risks associated with email and internet.

        It pays to have multiple backups, the internet can break, phone systems normally don't.

        It wouldn't be beyond wit for the exchange to detect fax tones and act accordingly, whether it's a DSP decode, a higher bandwidth Voip line or whatever.

        I see it just as BT looking for cost savings they'll then keep, ta very much - like being allowed to charge line rental in advance, the c***s.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "the internet can break, phone systems normally don't."

          Just phone systems are becoming VoIP ones which rely on internet connectivity. It looks governments still fails to understand that (or just want to let telcos do whatever they like..), and emit RFPs on how to make them more reliable - today even the internet is no longer a "nice to have" systems - but when you put other systems on top of it too, which once had their separate network...

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Pagers

          >By a similar token, faxes are a simple...

          They're not, because your internal phone system at the hospital has probably long-since been replaced with an IP-based network so your "fax" is really a godforsaken multi-function printer monstrosity that barely works half the time and is mostly used to scan PDFs into someone's NHSMail account.

  6. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    What do they mean "provide" fax services? The telephone providers are in the business of providing a sound link from point A to point B; as long as that exists, you can send a fax, as faxes are - like any other data sent over a 'phone line - just data encoded into sounds. If you can /speak/ over a phone connection, you can send a fax over a phone connection.

    weeee wah weeee wah kudung kerdung bzzzzzz weeeee...

    1. Mike 137 Silver badge

      "The telephone providers are in the business of providing a sound link from point A to point B"

      But once everything telephonic is digital (VoIP) the problem of transmitting 'weeee wah weeee wah kudung kerdung bzzzzzz weeeee...' potentially arises because out of order delivery and variable latency may screw up fax (for example, I'm not sure how tolerant it is of timing jitter). These characteristics of IP do already not infrequently cause glitches in voice comms.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        Re: "The telephone providers are in the business of providing a sound link from point A to point B"

        There are a couple of issues with fax transmissions over VOIP. Firstly the frequency range that a FAX uses to communicate is not necessarily supported in enough integrity to allow fax transmission and secondly VOIP uses lossy compression algorithms which will cut out some of the fax data. Either of these on their own would cause serious FAX transmission problems, but both together can almost kill it stone dead. Fax is quite a resilient protocol though and if it doesn't succeed at the first speed it'll drop down to a slower speed and so on. Eventually it could go through on a VOIP connection but it's far from guaranteed.

        1. heyrick Silver badge

          Re: "The telephone providers are in the business of providing a sound link from point A to point B"

          I can just about manage a Minitel connection (1200/75) on my VoIP line. Never tried a fax, as I don't have a functional analogue modem any more.

    2. MrBanana Silver badge

      I agree. AFAIK it is all basic tone dial stuff, so if you can make a call on a phone, then a fax, or even an old style modem, should be able to make a connection. Is there something weird in dial tone recognition that would case a problem for a fax machine on an IP based line?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        VoIP networks are optimised for voice, so are not very good at transporting FAX or modem tones unless they have special functionality to do so. That special functionality is a pain to maintain, so networks would rather stop supporting it. It’s a lot of complexity for very few calls.

        For example, the very first beep is to disable the echo cancellers which make speech calls sound better, but breaks fax/modem. VoIP networks tend to use CODECs to save bandwidth, which sound great for speech, but again kill fax/modem transmission.

        Personally, it’ll be great to see the back of FAX, dial up internet/modems and MMS ASAP.

        1. adam 40 Silver badge


          But even if you ditch Fax, there is still TTY for deaf people, or has that been binned too?

          1. Dave123

            Re: TTY?

            There’s an app for that now.

            Relay uk


        2. Justthefacts Silver badge


          If you want to transmit fax over a voice circuit that is digitised, the only way to do it really reliably is over 128kbps ISDN which fully digitises synchronous audio frames at 4kHz sampling. So what we’re actually arguing about, is whether local loop provider need to provision *ISDN* (not analogue voice), twenty years after it went obsolete for other purposes.

        3. vogon00

          Ahh, the joys of VoIP and Fax interworking!

          That gave us VoIP Switch people a headache for quite a while. Basically the choice for detecting a FAX call was listen for FAX's CNG/ANS tone and, once detected, either freeze the incoming RTP stream's jitter buffers, turn off the local echo cancellation and switch back to the 'lossless' G.711 codec, switch to T.38 FAX relay, or some unholy proprietary crap - depending on which media gateway had implemented which standards and/or proprietary crap.

          Generally the JB freeze and switch back to G.711 was preferred, as ISTR that it was mandatory for any VoIP endpoint to have support for G.711a/u.

          The really hard part was convincing some people that they needed to start the RTP stream before the terminating end answered so any echo cancellation etc. could be handled in any media gateways along the route. Either that, or come up with a horribly complicated and time-sensitive OOB signalling solution.This was particularly fun with SIP and H.248/Megaco and, odly enough, easier with MGCP.

          And don't get me started on other in-band modems.....especially the bloody card payment terminals that omitted some of the training/handshaking tones due to their need for a 'fast' connection....harrumph!

          I like reminiscing usually, but that shit gave me, and people smarter than me, a really hard time!

      2. Chris Roberts

        Analogue telephone adaptors normally detect the fax on the audio side and encode it using T.38. for SIP

        A fax software service will just go straight to T.38 without the noise, then it depends what is inbetween the sender and receiver as to if it ends up as noise or not before being turned back into, likely, another image file.

        I don't know why there is much legal standing for the header as you can pretty much present whatever number you like in the header or CLId. A digital document with a public key encrypted hash would give you far more certainty of who had sent it and if it had been changed. The main issue is providing people with personal certificates, no one wants to pay, governments don't want you to encrypt things and if they were issued by a government CA no one would trust them.

        1. Justthefacts Silver badge

          That works….

          Technically T.38 to SIP works fine…..or using one of many email-to-fax gateway servers, which can insert whatever spoofed header you specify, and provide validated message receipt. You can also fax from most applications now - Google Docs, MS Word, etc. Wanting to use “the fax machine” is classic dependent-help-rejector behaviour.

          As to providing identity authentication, you’re right as to many peoples perception…but I think in practice is a solved problem with the proliferation of well-recognised and reputable electronic signature companies as root-of-trust. DocuSign, Connective eSignature and others, with a decent regulatory framework under eIDAS. Much stronger than fax anyway, which is really just Caller Display and easily spoofed.

    3. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      If you can /speak/ over a phone connection, you can send a fax over a phone connection.

      I was thinking that, modem too, but I also recall there's clever processing in audio-to-digital encoders which can filter stuff out to enhance voice audio.

      I presume the current rules are 'fine, you can do that, but it must not bugger up fax tones' and the proposed change will remove that requirement. It doesn't necessarily mean fax won't work, but there will be no guarantee that it will work, no requirement for it to work.

  7. gryphon

    Faxing is often better

    Some members of my family get monthly and 2 monthly repeat prescriptions.

    All was working very well when GP surgery would fax the things to Boots branch, Boots would then text us to say prescription was ready.

    GP (I believe) then stopped using fax following a directive from NHS Scotland and started posting the repeats to Boots.

    At least 1 in 3 of these are now getting lost in the post, delivered late etc.

    Why this stuff can't be sent electronically between GP and pharmacist even as a scanned doc say which is all the fax is really doing I have no idea, even following up with the scrip by post.

    Very annoying situation and these are for pretty innocuous meds not the likes of Opioids scrips which presumably you really don't want to go missing in the post.

    Have to chase Boots to see if they received the thing, then the GP when they haven't to see that they've actually remembered to send it.

    Then Boots will get permission from the GP over the phone to part fill the scrip and wait on the post for the rest which means we have to make 2 trips to them.

    1. Mishak Silver badge

      Re: Faxing is often better

      My GP sends these electronically - not sure if it's different south of the border?

      1. drand

        Re: Faxing is often better

        There is (maybe even more than one) electronic system in England & Wales for exactly this purpose.

        A friend of mine who has recently left pharmacy was constantly frustrated by the inability of general practice to use these systems properly or even at all. And then there were the pharmacy managers who wouldn't hear anything about these newfangled ways of doing things and were left stuck in the dark ages. In the end we all pay the price for this kind of silliness as poor public service.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Faxing is often better

          >In the end we all pay the price for this kind of silliness as poor public service.

          Dear pharamcist, your mission if you choose to accept it.

          Throw out the fax machine and install a new IT system

          It requires Windows server with a primary and backup domain controller, which must support WibblePling 4.3 .45XYZ security

          You need a Ploing certificate of at least XC3455.b.v2 subpara 4 which must be kept upto date as specified in ISO3141592654 part B

          Please check with NHS IT policy directorate to ensure that none of these requirements have changed today

          You are now responsible for securing this against Russian/Chinese/N. Korean/Belgian nation state hackers

          The 4 local doctors surgeries, the 2 physiotherapy clinics and the 3 health authorities that you are on the border of all have different systems and you need to make sure your system works with all of them.

          1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

            Re: Faxing is often better

            Dear pharamcist, your mission if you choose to accept it.

            Throw out the fax machine and install a new IT system

            And how many staff shall I terminate in order to pay for this new IT system?

          2. Justthefacts Silver badge

            Re: Faxing is often better

            Absolute rubbish. It’s FUD like this which is the root of all the silliness.

            If you really insist on “using fax”, why not appear to the outside world as if you actually have one, while not needing to own one? Just use any of the commercial email to fax gateway servers available. Or, y’know, *click the damn menu button in MS Word that directly faxes things*.

            Or use SystmOne, like every other pharmacy has for well over a decade.

            Also: “the 4 local doctors surgeries”…..Since 2006, there are only a total of 10 health authorities covering the whole of the U.K. Since 2013, local systems and policies are defined by Clinical Commissioning Groups. A typical CCG covers about 100 GP practices, a dozen hospitals, and a million patients. Individual GP practices disappeared years ago, replaced by Primary Care Networks, which usually have five to ten GP practices, each with five to ten GPs. No high street pharmacy is dealing with even multiple PCNs, let alone multiple CCGs.

            The world you describe hasn’t existed for a very long time.

          3. Cian_

            Re: Faxing is often better

            I worked with one of the software providers cleared for use on the pharmacy end of this, closer to two decades ago than one by now.

            The NHS England prescription transfer system Just Worked, even back then. It was extremely frustrating for us as we were trying to get our local health authority (Irish firm) to move away from using modems for financial claims and paper for prescriptions.

            The former happened - replaced by a HTTPS API with client certs. The latter has been replaced by... sending PDFs of prescriptions via a restricted Office365 Exchange tenant shared between all the GPs and pharmacies (can't handle mail to/from any other domain)

      2. Caver_Dave Silver badge

        Re: Faxing is often better

        My wife used to run a small Pharmacy embedded in a Doctors building and then was a trouble shooter across a large area for one of the 'top 3' multiples. Everything was electronic at both ends of the size spectrum in England.

        The only problem I've ever had using the service is due to the multiple sites served by the practice. If you visit the Dr. at one surgery many miles away (so that you can actually see a Doctor as the local one has no appointments) they will only dispense the medicines at that surgery and not your local one. So another 30 mile round trip is required!

      3. Plest Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Faxing is often better

        Yep, mine too. My wife and I are on regular medication. I can see my GP, by the time I've walked the 3 miles home past the chemist they have the perscrition ready for me to just pay and take it. Repeats I get an email alerting me, I sign in to my chemist's website, select my stuff, pay by PayPal, wait about 2-3 hours for it to go via the GP surgery and usually get an alert by lunchtime to go collect it. No posting sign slips to the GP, no carrying bits of paper about with signatures, fast and efficient. People moan about the NHS but me aged 50 and my Dad ( now 82 ) agree it's infititely easier to use NHS services than it was 30 years ago!

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Faxing is often better

          Is that because the pharmacy is now part if some giant chain that has the political muscle to make sure the NHS adapts to its systems?

          Happened over here in the colonies. If you go to a chain that is in-group then it's all simple. You are free to use any local pharmacy, but expect a Lord of the Rings style quest to get if paid for. So best just stick to GlobalMegacorp

          1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            Re: Faxing is often better

            Is that because the pharmacy is now part if some giant chain that has the political muscle to make sure the NHS adapts to its systems?

            Doesn't seem to be. My Mum's local pharmacy is an independent with a single shop. It's in a small parade of shops 30 seconds walk from the local GP surgery. She's been doing her repeat prescriptions from it for years. Or she could use some other pharmacy in town - but having one 2 minutes' walk away is better.

  8. f4ff5e1881

    Traces of guilt

    Here’s a fun fax machine anecdote.

    You may (or may not) recall that Nick Leeson, the original ‘rogue trader’, brought down Barings Bank in 1995, through unauthorised trading on the Singapore stock exchange.

    His problems came to a head when an audit discovered a $78 million black hole in Barings' finances, and Leeson was told to send details of the missing $78 million to the auditors.

    He forged the relevant documents (including his bosses’ signatures with crude photocopy/cut/paste), and sent them from his home fax machine, not realising (or forgetting) that ‘NICK & LISA’ would appear at the top of the pages at the destination fax machine… indicating the documents could be traced back to his apartment. Oops.

  9. DuncanLarge Silver badge


    So now I MUST try to convince my solicitor to use GPG so I can actually send stuff safely to them.

    Even S/MIME would be something, but no, today email is still as secure as a postcard.

    FAX is great because very few could intercept it.

    So implement GPG encryption and signing and we have a deal...

  10. martinusher Silver badge

    Its a universal standard

    Fax works because its universal. Many fax machines don't work due to poor design and/or construction. There's nothing actually wrong with the fax page by page protocol apart from it being a bit slow and it relying on the integrity of the original POTS network. It would be very easy to upgrade the concept to include a credentialing in the page header exchange and you don't always have to send an image of a page to get the information across but I expect it hangs on simply because there are people who still insist on printing out emails both to read and to archive.

    You can build a decent online system for secure information like my medical provider does but you'll probably have to invest a great deal of time, thought and effort/money to do this because you'll either have to develop it yourself or heavily curate any third party applications you use. My medical provider is highly integrated, everything communicates seamlessly (they also have the legacy systems like phone banks because not everyone is on line). But every interaction with them is within their software ecosystem -- their webpage is really just a portal to the system. Its quite interesting to watch, seemingly out of date technologies such as computers on mobile stands with wired network connections rather than wireless tablets make a lot of sense when you think about the security implications.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Its a universal standard

      The problem is that you get feature creep

      It needs to be secure ( enjoy that rabbit hole) but interact seamlessly with every desktop and mobile platform.

      It should interface with every existing medical database, from the ambulance laptop to that mainframe in some neglected clinical research agency.

      Obviously it should also be able to send medical data, including 5d fMRI scans and support all the legacy kit with their nonconformist DICOM.

      And we require a single bidder for the software, hardware, support and training.

      Oh that's going to cost a squillion quid and take 10 years? Better just stick to fax then.

  11. TseTT


    Does the demise of the Fax, also mean the end of modem to modem communication too?

    I know/knew a few places too far out for BB and sat comms was impractical.

    The only way the remote kit could talk to the mothership was by dial up modems!

    1. herman Silver badge

      Re: Modems???

      Well, fax is modem to modem - just a particularly antiquated one.

  12. Bushy


    Not too long ago El Reg reported on the NHS Adastra hack here . This involved urgent care services (111) resorting to working on paper and guess what that involves... You guessed it, faxing all the paper records to places that patients are referred too all around the country. If this change in the USO is approved then I wouldn't be surprised if this ends up with the NHS writing a blank check to BT to retain continuity of these services.

  13. Martin-73 Silver badge

    Cue the downvotes for me being a luddite

    But isn't it the case that if the brand spanking new 'VoIP' based system is not capable of doing the same job as analogue POTS, then BT should have been investigated for trying to USE it in the first place. It's clearly not fit for purpose.

    Mine's the one with the local area codes book in the pocket

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Cue the downvotes for me being a luddite

      We used to be able to send low frequency radio telescope signals over analogue phone lines, can't do that with VoIP so obviously BT should never have been allowed to build system X

      1. Martin-73 Silver badge

        Re: Cue the downvotes for me being a luddite

        to be fair, system X used PCM I believe, rather than the much more recent internet protocol, so while digitally encoded, the sound was much more 'faithful to the original', there used to be very VERY strict bandwidth standards, not like VoIP where those values are probably software based rather than hardware.

        And re your last comment... I do agree BT shouldn't have been able to do the wholesale vandalism of the strowger system that they did. They refused to supply stuff to collectors on the flimsiest of pretexts ... I know, I was one of them. Can't buy a final selector sir, even at 3x scrap value, see, the capacitor might have PCBs in it, despite being well past the date when that was likely to be a thing, or even better 'you might set up a rival phone company'... using SxS gear? LOL

        Realizing that the refusal to sell me stuff, that still rankles with me is now 30 years ago... I shall don this icon

      2. vogon00

        Re: Cue the downvotes for me being a luddite

        BT should never have been allowed to build system X

        Now, as an ex-employee of the firm that DID make System's time for a little defence. There's nothing wrong with preferring the preceding Analogue network, it's just that I'm proud of what 'X' did - and still does - for us.

        There is a basic but accurate time-line for 'digitsation' here, and the moderately detailed wiki page is also factually correct.

        Also, don't forget there was/is also a different architecture - System 'Y' (The Ericsson AXE10) - used as well, so it's not just 'X's fault.:-)

        'X' and 'Y' were the enablers for turning the entire network 'digital', meaning better clarity and consistency of the audio, much faster call set-up, the availability of Subscriber Trunk Dialling (The only type of STD I wanna be involved with!) among many other benefits. Yes, using TDM (Time division multiplex) brought a few issues, but on the whole, and IMHO, 'digital' was just better overall.

        It did indeed use PCM - the 64Kbit/S G.711 A-Law (8Khz samples) flavour. which is pretty much lossless as far as the human speech band (Up to about ~3.4Khz) goes..I don't know what bandwidth your "radio telescope signals" used, but it worked over the dial-up Analogue PSTN, it would have worked over the Digital flavour of PSTN also. If it didn't work as expected...then you weren't using the 'PSTN' but something else, probably one of the GPO/BT's higher-bandwidth leased lines.

        The next step was to move from synchronous, circuit-switched TDM (With it's nice short delays) to packeted VoIP (With it's bloody awful delays, transport reliability and need for echo-cancellers everywhere). This was popular, as the *huge* footprint taken by the 'X' equipment (GTLE or DMSU!) could be reduced to a few 19" racks, consuming a lot less power etc. into the bargain. The analogue TXE and Strowger stuff took up even more space than the 'X' equipment, which was another reason for the adoption of 'X'.

        In case you hadn't noticed, I could witter on about this subject for days!

  14. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    Fax Protocols

    ISTR at least one manufacturer offering proprietary sending (HP?). When two fax machines handshake and find that they have the same proprietary capability they will dispense with normal fax protocol and use their own. This was a good selling point for buying that particular brand of fax machine.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Fax Protocols

      So take a standard whose only value is that it "just works" and fsck with it to make a propriety version ?

      Yes, could well be HP - or Microsoft, or Apple, or IBM, or ....

  15. Korev Silver badge

    Early predecessors of the "modern" fax machine date to the 1840s and the first commercial telegraph printing service was introduced between Paris and Lyon, France,

    I love that as ElReg is now targeting Americans is has to dumb down geography...

    Icon because Paris has gone...

    1. Norman Nescio Silver badge

      the first commercial telegraph printing service was introduced between Paris and Lyon, France,

      I love that as ElReg is now targeting Americans is has to dumb down geography...

      I wouldn't call it dumbing down. It's only because we are near neighbours that Brits are expected to simply know some of the major towns of France. You might know that Delhi is the capital of India, but would you know where you might find Agra*? So it would be reasonable to write between 'Delhi and Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India' (Agra has nearly four times the population of Lyon). You could say the same for major conurbations of other countries. I think it is reasonable to expect people to know the world's capital cities, so you can write them without further explanation, but knowing a country's major conurbations when the country is an ocean away - maybe not so reasonable. Assuming that everybody in a global readerships knows that Lyon is a major city in France is a bit parochial.

      *If you do, well done. Now which country or countries are the following in: Harbin, Belém, Benin City, Ilorin, Perm, Zagazig; each with a greater population than Lyon.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Zagazig is where the Spice Girls come from...

      2. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

        Re: I love that as ElReg is now targeting Americans is has to dumb down geography...

        Perhaps they need to explain that London is generally not the one in Ohio.

        1. hayzoos

          Re: I love that as ElReg is now targeting Americans is has to dumb down geography...

          Ah, and Paris is not the one in Texas.

  16. xyz Silver badge

    Last time I saw a fax..

    Was on Back to the Future 2.

    All telephony gives me these days is spam calls and spam messages so I use whatsapp, telegram and skype instead. For official stuff I have a digital ID and signature (EU/Spain). Still use email for the rest. From next year all billing is to be done (by law) electronically to stop tax fraud, so bits of paper being stuffed into a glorified photocopier with a phone nailed to it have long been forgotten about here.

  17. Big_Boomer Silver badge


    At a former employers we used to get a lot of FaxSpam in the days before decent e-Fax software. We would have to replace the toner cartridge every month just to be able to receive 20 or so faxes from customers & suppliers. So, we used to keep a stack of black and white diagonal striped paper beside the fax machine and anyone who spammed us got 20 pages of that sent back to them (now they get to replace their toner as well) with a final sheet telling them that if they faxed us again we would send Big John around to insert their fax machine somewhere dark and smelly. Over the next few months the FaxSpam storm declined to a light drizzle. Eventually we got a fax machine that could be whitelisted so we ONLY accepted faxes from a validated list of customers and suppliers. I think the companies initial mistake was publishing the fax number on their website.

    As for the death of the fax machine, bring it on. They are an archaic PITA and need to die!

  18. NightFox

    Resistance is Futile

    My first job, back in the mid-80s at 16 was at British Gas, working in an office full of women 'of a certain age' who didn't have much of a grasp of technology. Every evening, when the office shut, it was necessary to fax job documents for any outstanding call-outs due to be done that night to our sister office, which operated 24/7. However, quite regularly there was issues where the faxes would come through corrupted, and by then the sender in our office had gone home. Multiple engineers' inspections of both sending and receiving faxes were undertaken, but no issue was ever found.

    I'm proud to say, I solved this one waiting for a lift home one night from the lady who was sending that night's faxes. Because the fax machine was so slow and it was home-time, it had become the practice of many of the ladies to give the fax machine a helping hand and speed things up significantly by pulling the documents through it as quickly as they could.

    I guess that's the difference between eras - with technology, resistance normally means 'stop - something's wrong' whereas to previous generations it just meant 'try harder'.

  19. Stuart Castle Silver badge

    Before I saw sense, got a degree and moved into a career I like, I was a Freight Forwarding clerk. This was the early 90s, so the company even having a computer was a bonus. Email (and the Internet in general) wasn't an option, although we did have an IBM AT with a serial terminal that had a dial up connection into a computer maintained by HMRC. We used this to enter shipment details directly into HMRC, and also print out the reams of paperwork involved in some shipments.

    We were required to fax a lot of this documentation to various organisations, including the shipping company, the importer, sometimes the customs organisation in the importing country. In the event of a shipment being covered by a letter of credit, the bank issuing the LOC often also wanted copies of any documentation. Fax certainly had legal status then. I suspect nowdays, that's all done electronically, possibly even with digitally signed data/documents.

    1. Majikthise

      Digital signatures...

      Which reminds me...

      In the early 90s I worked at a university computing service; I had just set up one of the first campus Athena services in the UK with Kerberos (56 bit des crypto, and you still needed a munitions license from the US DoD) - which made me the local crypto guru. As I recall, even PGP wasn't really a thing yet.

      My boss appear in my office looking worried - the head of finance had just been in touch: a supplier had just sent a contract with a digital signature and the finance staff didn't know how to verify it. Could I talk to him?

      Gosh. I had no idea that commerce was this advanced! I asked my colleague who supported the finance and admin staff if she knew anything and she's never heard of this either!

      How had this contract even arrived, given that finance were only just in the era of email? Boss didn't know and so it was decided that all three of us needed to deal with this. An hour or so later, we were ushered in to an impressively large office.

      Could we see this contract please?

      Head of finance looked very serious and showed us the last page a wodge of A4 paper, clearly the signature section of a long contract; the supplier had typed* "FRED BLOGGS" in the appropriate box.

      There was a very obvious fax header.

      After a couple of seconds silence, I heard myself saying "er... this is a fax".

      The head of finance looked at me as if I was a complete idiot and replied "Yes. It's a digital fax machine."

      We managed to persuade him that: a) it was still just a fax; b) the typed "signature" was probably perfectly fine, but questions on this would be best directed to a lawyer; c) "digital signature" meant something else.

      Straight faces were maintained all the way downstairs; we didn't crease up laughing until we were outside. Even the boss managed a smile and then told us to never say anything about this. Humiliating the head of finance is just never a good idea in any organisation...

      * And yes, I mean typed. With a typewriter.

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