oday's fax machines aren't just faster, they are features-packed. They include dual access (the ability to send and receive faxes at the same time) and delayed broadcasting (storing scanned documents in memory for transmission at night, when telephone rates are lower and colleagues on the other side of the world are awake). Fax machines with multichannel simultaneous broadcasting capability can transmit different documents to different destinations at the same time or fax the same document to hundreds of field offices simultaneously.
Fax machines have become more flexible. Memory can be extended by plugging in memory cards; paper supply can be expanded by adding paper drawers; speed can be increased by attaching a faster modem. Panasonic's UF-788 fax can even be converted to a multifunction machine that scans and prints as well as faxes.
"You're going to get a lot more machine for less money today," says Chris Herb, national marketing manager for fax machines at Sharp Electronics. Price vary with they type of printing technology. Thermal transfer and ink jet machines are the most affordable, followed by light emitting diode units (which print without moving parts). Laser fax machines are the most expensive to buy but the least expensive to operate. Plain paper fax machines are making significant inroads now that unit prices are around the $600 mark.
Fax servers from companies like Panasonic and Octel Corp. connect fax machines to local-area computer networks. Once connected, users can fax from their PCs.
Some vendors are bundling document-transmission technology with voice-response systems to form a new technology known as fax-on-demand. Callers can request that government documents be faxed to them by using their touch-tone phones to respond to interactive voice prompts. Information is sent quickly and at low cost when compared to prices for postage or long distance phone calls, plus workers are freed from answering phones and stuffing envelopes.
Most federal agencies are buying fax machines that print on plain paper, leaving machines that print on thermal papers (which still constitute two-thirds of tax machine sales) to the home office market. Plain paper doesn't curl like thermal paper, costs less and lasts longer.