In the past decade or so, alternate communication channels like email and IMs have gained immense popularity but the good old fax machines, that transmit scanned paper documents (aka facsimile) through the traditional phone lines, are still an ubiquitous part of every business.

Thanks to internet-based fax services, it is now possible for business owners to send and receive faxes without investing in a fax instrument. Not only are these web faxing services significantly cheaper (even free) than the traditional phone line route, they also help you realise your dream of a paperless office.

Web faxing services are not only significantly cheaper than the traditional phone lines, they also help you move closer to a paperless office.

There are different ways of sending faxes over the internet — some services offer a web-based interface where you can type in the text message in a web form (similar to writing a mail in Yahoo!). Or you can send the fax as an email message to a special address given by the internet fax company. (I say special because the email address itself contains the number of the destination fax machine)

If your fax message contains formatting and images, you may upload that as a Word or PDF document to the web server of the fax service, specify the fax number and it will automatically print on the destination fax machine.

The next important question is how to choose a fax company from the hundred odd services that exist on the web — well, it depends on your budget, frequency of use (are you a heavy user?) and where you intend to send faxes (the destination city / country).

The Phone Company (www.tpc.int) is the pioneer in internet faxing. They allow you to send text messages and rich-text documents as faxes to most destinations in the world for free.

To send a fax via TPC, you just need to compose an email address with the following address:remote-printer.Line_1/Line_2 @1234.iddd.tpc.int where “1234” is the destination fax number with the international code. The Line_1 and Line_2 will create the fax cover sheet in the following format:

Please deliver this facsimile to:

Line 1

Line2

TPC covers most popular cities of the world including India — you can send faxes to clients located in Mumbai, Chennai and the national capital region (Delhi, Ghaziabad, Gurgaon, Noida, Faridabad)

TPC will send you email notification if there was a problem during the delivery of the facsimile.

If you fax a majority of documents to US or Canada, look no further than FAX Zero.com — an ad supported web-based fax service that will deliver a fax message upto three pages in length for free. You can type the text or upload it as .doc or .pdf file and hit send. The only caveat is that your fax coversheet will contain an advertisement.

Bulk users may consider subscribing to commercial services (like the ones offered by eFax.com, popFax.com or myFax.com) — other than the standard options for sending faxes, these services also provide a virtual fax number which is no different than the classical fax machine number. This number is linked to your email address and you can therefore read your fax messages online or on your cell phone anywhere in the world.