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The Fax Revolution : At Home and at Work, Facsimile Machines Have Become <i> the </i> Essential Business Tools

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Vincent Valenza recalls the most unusual fax that he has transmitted for a customer--a 37-page musical composition for a television commercial:

“The producer sent it from here (Burbank) to New York. Changes were made there and sent back. More changes here, then back to New York. Back and forth again a third time. It took about five hours.”

Valenza, owner of Mail Boxes and Accessories, makes a business of sending faxes, and other kinds of correspondence. But he also has a fax machine at home for sending and receiving personal and business documents, and another at his restaurant, Frankie V’s, for taking lunch orders.

“The fax has made my life a lot simpler,” he says. “It’s made a whole lot of people’s lives simpler. Faxes have become very, very essential in today’s business.”

Such hasn’t always been the case. In the 1970s, facsimile machines were used mostly by Fortune 500 companies for getting and sending urgent documents. The expensive machines--about $18,000--took six minutes to transmit one page and weighed about 100 pounds.

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Then in the late 1980s, state-of-the-art technology took over and prices plummeted, spurring a fax explosion.

Industry experts estimate there are more than 3 million fax machines in use in the United States, cranking out more than 82 million pages daily.

It’s easy to see why the fax is so popular: Today’s home office machines are relatively cheap (from $500 to $1,200), can send a page in 20 seconds or less, are easy to use and weigh 15 to 20 pounds. Commercial machines range from $895 to $5,000. And they can transmit across the country or around the world for less than the cost of overnight mail delivery.

Fax machines work by converting images on a sheet of paper--copy, pictures, charts, handwriting, diagrams--into electrons that travel along phone lines to another machine, which reassembles the image and prints it. Most machines print black and white, but some more expensive models have color capabilities; most also serve as copiers.

The most popular are stand-alone faxes that sit on a desk and plug into a phone. You’ll pay “under $500 for a basic machine that’s now twice as fast,” according to David Day, executive director of the International Facsimile Assn. in Lake Havasu City, Ariz.

If you’re not planning high-volume use for the fax, experts recommend a no-frills machine that sends and receives over your phone line. If you plan to send more than a few sheets a day, you’ll be better off with a model that has more capabilities such as using paper wider than the standard 8 1/2 inch or sending faxes to a network of different machines. For high-volume use, you probably will need a dedicated phone line, which costs about $11 a month after a $35 installation charge.

Regardless of the type of machine you buy, make sure it is standard Group 3 compatible. That allows the machine to communicate with other current faxes on regular phone lines.

All stand-alone fax machines are manufactured in Japan, with Sharp Electronics Corp., Murata and Canon being the three most popular, according to Day’s most recent calculations.

In Japan, Sharp is manufacturing a pint-sized fax the size of a dictionary, which weighs 11 pounds and can transmit a page in 15 seconds. It is not yet on the U.S. market.

Day says price and model capabilities are generally the deciding factors when purchasing a fax machine. “But, ‘Does the color match my office?’ may still influence some potential users,” he adds.

“Frankly they are all good, much like the major motor manufacturers,” he writes in his new book, “Just the Fax.” The book is a guide that answers questions about fax machines and has a facsimile reference section with names, addresses and other fax information sources, including a manufacturers toll-free assistance directory.

If you already have a home computer, you might want to consider a fax modem or fax board that can be attached to your PC with special software. These, however, seem more complicated than a stand-alone machine, and cost from $250 to $1,095.

GammaLink, in Sunnyvale, Calif., is a top manufacturer of PC fax boards. Its latest fax board has a microprocessor unit on the card, “so you don’t overload your computer system with the fax operation,” says GammaLink’s Greg Skeggs. “If you’re computer savvy at all and can read basic English, you’ll be all right with our board.”

If you don’t think your fax needs require purchasing a machine, you can find one almost anywhere--in most copy shops, some restaurants, airports, hotels and truck stops. Day calculates that there are 10,000 public fax machines nationally.

Charges can range from $2 to $5 a page to send a fax in the United States. The charge usually includes the cost of the phone call. For an international fax, figure $3 to $5 a page plus phone charges. Many stores give discounts for transmitting large volumes of faxes.

AT&T; is conducting a trial program of public fax machines in selected airports, hotels and truck stops across the country. On the West Coast, the AT&T; public fax service was installed July 25 at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

The trial, scheduled to run until October, will help AT&T; determine whether it wants to provide business travelers with public fax service nationwide, says Karen Antonucci, marketing manager of AT&T; Public Fax Service.

“Frequent travelers increasingly expect public communication services to be as sophisticated and convenient as those in their homes or offices,” she says, adding that a recent AT&T; study showed that 63% of business travelers surveyed send faxes while away from their homes or offices.

The AT&T; machines cost $2 per page to send or receive a fax, nationally, or $3, internationally. Charges can be billed to the AT&T; Calling Card or Universal Card or most major credit cards.

Although many hotels subscribe to national fax services, others have their own machines. The downtown Biltmore, for example, has its own fax for guests’ use. It is a 24-hour service and costs $9 for 1 to 10 pages, and 60 per page over 10. Those costs include phone charges for a domestic fax, while the phone charges are additional for international faxes. There is no charge to receive a fax at the hotel.

The Ontario 76 Auto Truck Plaza on Interstate 10 has a fax machine for truckers to send bills of lading, receipts and other paperwork to their dispatchers. It costs $5 for the first page and $1 for each additional one, but those charges include the phone call.

“It’s important for them to send things quickly,” says Irene Dykstra of Ontario 76. “The faster they send it, the faster they get paid by the trucking firms.”

Kinko’s Copy store in Burbank’s Media Center sends more than 100 faxes a day nationally and internationally. Kinko’s, which is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, charges $2 each for the first two pages of a fax, $1 for each additional pages, including the phone call. International charges are $5 each for the first two pages, $1 for additional pages, plus the phone charge.

“Because of the major studios, we do a huge color business,” says Billy Saba, a shift supervisor at Kinko’s Burbank shop, one of more than 500 Kinko’s nationally.

“But we have walk-ins, average people wanting to send a fax across town, contractors, business people. We have an attorney who is setting up a Mt. Everest expedition. He comes in once a month to fax plans and arrangements for climbing to Katmandu.”


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