The evolving technology of fax

16 March 2018

The ways businesses communicate have changed considerably since the origins of the fax machine. However, as technology has evolved, faxing has undergone a whole-body transformation. Stephen Leschke, CEO at Ferrari electronic, talks about the goals of unified communications, how to integrate new processes into existing systems and why fax has changed significantly.

In 1953, Franz Ferrari founded a company in West Berlin that specialised in statistical machines. By 1965, these products had earned him multiple awards for their advancements. He initally started producing mechanical counting devices for the medical technology and transport industries. It was commitment to the former, however, that saw his work become recognised by WHO, particularly the Leucotron 10. This device counted white blood cells and remained in use until the 2000s.

Despite the company’s name change, the current team at Ferrari electronic remain guided by the ethos of their founder. “Our inventor spirit and a sense for the market have characterised our technology company from the very beginning,” says Stephan Leschke, CEO.

Indeed, in 1990, the company achieved a breakthrough – just not in medicine or transport – that was driven by Johann Deutinger, chief strategy officer, who had previously worked at Wincor Nixdorf (now known as Diebold Nixdorf International). The computer scientist and electrical engineer had been studying the development of microcomputer systems, and also contributed to the creation of products in the communications sector. After just a few years at the company, he oversaw the development of the ferrariFAX card.

Fax technology dates back to 19th-century Scotland, but was not optimised until the Hellschreiber in 1929. The introduction of the Group 3 specification followed in 1990. Pioneered by Deutinger, this product cleared the way for the next level of progress.

These new means of communication were accompanied by faster modem procedures, cheaper fax machines, the replacement of thermal paper and the extensive use of an integrated services digital network (ISDN).

Deutinger recognised that ISDN was the key to switching over to digital technology, which initiated the development of ferrariFAX. With this card, companies were no longer reliant on analogue-only fax machines and could send documents directly from the Windows applications that were the most common at the time.

Technically, fax technology was further developed and integrated into Novell’s GroupWise, IBM Notes (formerly Lotus Notes), SAP and the Microsoft Exchange Server. Research, development and support then followed and continues to this day at Ferrari electronic’s headquarters in Teltow, on the outskirts of Berlin.

The company in the 21st century: advancing communications

The production process is distinguished by the high-quality requirements that help to build long-lasting hardware and sophisticated software. These components are perfectly matched to one another, creating a powerful package that can be adapted quickly to suit individual requirements.

A milestone in the company’s history came in 2001, when Ferrari electronic presented a world sensation for fax communication at CEBIT, a European business trade fair. The company introduced the first fax ever that used an internet protocol (IP) solution. This paved the way for IP-based unified communications (UC) concepts during the following years. With these integrated technologies, companies could seamlessly send faxes, SMS and voicemails in a unified way across different environments.

Users were able to edit each message regardless of their chosen format – including Microsoft Outlook – because the solutions were deeply integrated into a range of applications. The fax’s functions still work well with various applications, while the system runs new technology smoothly at the byte level.

Further developments: market-leading partnerships and IP

In order to drive development, the team at Ferrari electronic partnered with major IT companies. One alliance has seen the company work alongside Microsoft for nearly a decade, a move that has led to the certification of OfficeMaster Gate for Microsoft Lync (now known as Skype for Business).

“Companies that wanted a computer fax solution were out of luck,” Leschke says. “Homemade solutions were no longer offered, but Ferrari electronic filled the gap by providing reliable, special IT and traditional knowledge.

“These days, our gateways and software regularly receive certifications from the company’s technology partners and we are often the first provider to meet global requirements.”

Since joining the management board in 2011, and becoming CEO in 2015, Leschke has taken charge of steering the company’s future.

“Ferrari electronic is all about IP communication,” Leschke adds. ISDN, which is the standard in Europe, will be converted to the more modern IP. “We offer future-oriented solutions for modern document exchange, enabling companies to transition step by step or directly to the new technology, without having to forego established communication processes.”

In a phase where old and new technologies exist side by side, the company is a competent contact partner. Consider DirectSIP, a default feature in software packages that allows faxes to be transmitted directly in the IP world. This not only stabilises fax communication but also supports a smooth migration to IP.

There are already fax solutions that have been designed to work in an IP environment, including internet aware fax devices (IAF). Internet-capable fax devices can also transmit the data of fax messages much faster. With IP, the fax is not replaced and switches to the fast lane.

Leschke elaborates on this, saying: “Fax over IP does not mean that offices or external offices have to cope without their multi-functional device. With a corresponding software stack, they can also act as IAFs.”

The media gateway OfficeMaster Gate Advanced is the most popular product for the conversion phase, in which both ISDN and IP are used simultaneously for corporate communication. It can work in both environments and is compatible with Skype for Business.

As a session border controller, the gateway can take over important functions, such as integrating analogue devices and distinguishing between different IP protocols.

“The growing demand for cloud solutions is also reflected in our UC solutions,” Leschke states. “Companies that use fax, cloud solutions like Office 365 are vulnerable: incoming simple mail transfer protocol (SMTP) connections that take place during a fax transmission could expose the network to attacks from the outside. We, therefore, developed a dedicated connector for these type of scenarios that does not utilise SMTP connections; the result is secure faxing with the cloud, which is unique and future oriented.”

Document exchanges can be managed efficiently with the OfficeMaster product line. One of the most recent additions to the solution portfolio is OfficeMaster EntryControl, which controls access over a PC or digital enhanced cordless telecommunications phone.

Verifiability and process quality are different forms of security, and are enhanced by telephone recording. In many industries and specific situations, the recording of calls is mandatory, for example, in banking and call centres. “We recognised this development at an early stage and, following the takeover of innoventif in 2014, created the prerequisites for an integrated solution,” Leschke says.

As the youngest member of the management board, Dr Rolf Fiedler, chief technology officer, is responsible for integrating OfficeMaster CallRecording into the portfolio for UC.

Whether it is hardware or software, the company’s inventor spirit and high standards bring about long-lasting UC solutions. “Companies that use our services benefit in three ways,” explains Leschke, who adds, “They receive a powerful and comprehensive package, which covers all channels of modern business communication and bundles for greater efficiency; there is also high investment protection; and clients are provided with continuous developments, as well as a comprehensive service. This makes them perfectly suited for digital transformation.”

The OfficeMaster line of products has revolutionised UC.