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Innovation

Finally, is this the end for the fax machine?

Once an essential part of office life, the fax machine is on the way out.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer on
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Image: junpiiiiiiiiiii / Shutterstock

Once the heart of office life, the fax machine could soon fall silent forever. The UK's telecoms regulator Ofcom is considering whether to remove facsimile or 'fax' services from the list of technologies that it requires telecoms companies to support. 

The proposed change would amend the current universal service obligation (USO), which was written into UK law in 2003, when faxing was still a popular communications method. 

As Ofcom notes, back in 2003, email and instant messaging were still in the early days of mass adoption.

"Almost 20 years later, and the telecoms landscape has changed," Ofcom notes. "Not only are alternatives to fax machines now more widely available, migration of telephone networks to internet protocol (IP) technology means fax services can no longer be guaranteed to work in the same way."

Also: What is digital transformation? Everything you need to know about how technology is changing business

The UK is retiring its legacy telephone network for IP telephony by December 2025, which will also have an impact on the country's iconic public telephone boxes.

"We are proposing to amend our rules to remove the requirement for BT and KCOM to provide fax services under the USO. This will ensure that our rules reflect the requirements in the universal service legislation and are not unduly burdensome," Ofcom notes on its consultation page.   

Xerox pioneered facsimile technology commercially in the 1960s, but as HP notes, the first fax was made in 1843 by Alexander Baine and then was later improved successively to the point of an optical scan in 1902 – a change that would transform the newspaper industry. 

As Ofcom explains, in the UK, fax was popular for "big-money transactions with tight deadlines, such as house sales or football transfers, as they enabled contracts to be exchanged quickly and accurately." Nowadays, it's possible to sign documents electronically. 

While this move only applies in the UK, lawmakers around the world are updating fax rules. Australia in 2019 tried to kill off fax machines in hospitals. Doctors at the time commonly waited around fax machines to receive documents. Many doctors didn't use practice management software and lacked computers in their rooms.   

In the US, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) regulates fax messages. TCPA was written and passed in 1991, partly in response to spam faxes. 

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