In legacy, we stink

by Doug Mohney

Modern society as a whole doesn’t do legacy well, especially when it comes to technology.

Fax. With all the wonders of cell phones and broadband connectivity, businesses still have to support fax in 2016. Migrating away from the public switched telephone network (PSTN) is going to take far longer than it should, costing society in wasted power and water because service providers can’t get the depreciation on ’70s and ’80s hardware fast enough or just don’t want to spend the money to replace equipment.   The world has run out of IPv4 network addresses, but that hasn’t stopped companies from plodding along running the last generation of IP protocols instead of upgrading to IPv6.

Back in the days when I thought HD voice would be a hot topic rather than a simple feature upgrade, Jeff Pulver suggested that the migration from analog to digital TV (DTV) would be a case study on how to handle an upgrade from narrowband to wideband voice, as well as the move to an all IP network.

Let’s hope not.

Congress mandated a transition date to DTV on December 31, 2006 back in the Telecommunications Act of 1996.  Due to stalling, fretting, and political jockeying, it took until June 12, 2009 before all analog TV broadcasts were shut down.  Thirteen years, a three year delay, however you want to call it, that’s a long time to switch out.  Add in about a billion or so for coupons and various other services to assist consumers with legacy TVs to get DTV signals and it wasn’t cheap.  Keep in mind TV stations were running DTV and analog channels in parallel for a number of years, so it was no big surprise that the cutoff was coming,

We — and by “we,” I mean society and businesses around the globe — should have killed off fax years ago. It’s slow, duct-taped to work over Voice over IP (VoIP) and IP networks, and chews up paper more often than not, since a “fax” typically uses scanned paper at some point.  Most ordinary mortals these days resort to using a cell phone to take a picture of a document — usually something that requires a signature — and then emailing the image to the requesting party.

Regrettably, the business world has been a silent partner in keeping fax around.  Instead of insisting upon a standardized way to verify documents and securely move them around from point A to point B, the IT department and specific verticals continue to insist upon having “fax” as a part of the feature checklist because it’s the path of least resistance and effort.  And let’s ignore the fact that any rationale for using caller ID as a verification method as to where a fax comes from was dead from the mid-90s when people could change fax origin numbers in software.  Today is worse, because of the ability of fraudsters to spoof caller ID and the inability/unwillingness of service providers to crack down on abuse… but that’s a story for another day.

In my perfect world, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the ITU would create a sunset data for fax, preferably on December 31, 2016.  Yes, I know, fat chance.