087 faxes present growing risk of bill shocks
Consumers and businesses who send faxes to 086 and 087 numbers are increasingly at risk of unexpectedly high bills, warns VOIP and UC specialist Wanatel.
Riaan Pietersen, Business Development Manager at Wanatel, says a new trend appears to be emerging in which the hosts of 086 and 087 fax to e-mail numbers slow down their servers, resulting in excessively high charges to those who send faxes to these numbers.
"While fax to e-mail and e-mail to fax services can be very convenient and cost effective, we have heard of cases recently where businesses experience sudden spikes in their telecoms bills due to faxes sent to 086 and 087 numbers," he says. "The fax to e-mail service is a good one, but like all technology, it is open to misuse."
Pietersen explains: "086 fax to e-mail numbers are linked to a fax server which converts the fax into an e-mail. The normal fax speed when sending a fax to a normal fax device is 9600 bps, which translates to roughly a page a minute. However, the 086 service providers might set speeds down to as low as 1200 bps which means a single page fax can take up to 25 minutes - if it does not fail completely." With the average cost of sending a fax to an 086 or 087 number being as high as R1,60 a minute, service providers indirectly benefit when the delivery time is longer.
Few people are aware of the cost implications, and they may try to send slow faxes repeatedly, racking up costs with each attempt, Pietersen adds.
At around three times the cost of normal faxes at their base rate, fax to e-mail services that operate too slowly can add significantly to a company's telecoms costs, Pietersen notes. "Consider the implications for a large financial institution that must send tens of thousands of faxes monthly; or for a small internet caf'e that calculates its rate for customers to send faxes based on an average Telkom fax rate."
Many organisations still rely heavily on faxes, says Pietersen - particularly public service departments and rural businesses. "When slow fax services drive up their fax to e-mail or e-mail to fax costs, they tend to look to their VOIP service providers for answers, so the practice of slowing down 086 and 087 servers makes all the players in this sector look bad."
Pietersen says industry players such as Wanatel hope to raise awareness and lobby for tighter controls over the costs and standards relating to fax to e-mail services in future. Putting measures in place to abort faxes that take too long would be counter-productive, he notes, since most faxes are considered important documents.
To avoid 086 and 087 bill shock, organisations should be alert to the potential for these fax numbers to increase their telecoms costs unexpectedly, and could ask for alternative fax numbers to use. They could also look to using scan to e-mail as a means of sending documents instead of faxes, he says.