The Panafax UF-770i works like a fax machine, sending printed documents electronically. But instead of traveling on the telephone network, the fax is sent via the Internet. The idea is to bypass charges from the phone company, providing cheap fax transmission regardless of the document's destination.
Panasonic claims its product is the first of its kind, although various services do exist for sending faxes via the Net. The advantage of the Panasonic machine over these methods, however, is that with a direct connection between the fax machine and the Internet, the user does not have to buy a second machine and is not subject to any pay-per-use fees.
"What's happening here is that first you had the services guys tapping into an installed base, saying it's cheaper to send a fax with those machines or with those services. And now here's the equipment manufacturer going one step further and saying instead of paying for a service or buying a server, here's a machine that's ready to go," said Chris Mines, analyst with Forrester Research.
"Eventually I would expect all fax machines to be made this way," he added.
But before the Internet fax becomes the norm, prices will have to come down. The Panasonic sells for $4,695, with a software upgrade available for $1,795.