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David E. Borth Corporate Vice President and Director, Communications Research Laboratories, Motorola Inc., Schaumburg, Illinois. Coauthor of Introduction to Spread Spectrum Communications.
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Facsimile, in full facsimile, also called telefax, in telecommunications, the transmission and reproduction of documents by wire or radio waves. Common fax machines are designed to scan printed textual and graphic material and then transmit the information via the telephone network to similar machines, where the faxes are reproduced close to the form of the original documents. Fax machines, due to their low price and their reliability, speed and simplicity of operation, revolutionized business and personal correspondence. They have virtually replaced telegraph services, and also present an alternative to government-run postal services and private couriers.
Most office and home fax machines comply with the Group 3 standard, which was adopted in 1980 to ensure the compatibility of digital machines operating through systems of public telephones worldwide. As a standard letter-sized sheet is fed through a machine, it is repeatedly scanned across its width by a charge-coupled device (CCD), a solid-state scanner that has 1,728 photosensors in a single row . Each photosensor in turn generates a low or high voltage variation, depending on whether the scanned area is black or white. Since there are usually 4 scan lines per mm (100 scan lines per inch), scanning a single sheet can generate almost two million voltage variations. The high/low variations are converted to a stream of binary digits, or bits, and the bit stream is subjected to a source encoder, which reduces or “compresses” the number of bits needed to represent long runs of white or black spots. The encoded bit stream can then be modulated onto an analog carrier wave by a voice band modem and transmitted over the telephone network. With source coding, the number of bits needed to represent a typed sheet can be reduced from two million to less than 400,000. As a result, at standard fax modem speeds (up to 56,000 bits per second, although usually less) one page can be transmitted in as little as 15 seconds.
Communication between a transmitting and receiving fax machine is opened by dialing the telephone number of the receiving machine. This begins a process known as the “handshake”, in which the two machines exchange signals that establish compatible characteristics such as modem speed, source code, and print resolution. The page information is then transmitted, followed by a signal indicating that no more pages are to be sent. The called machine indicates receipt of the message, and the calling machine signals to disconnect the line.
At the receiving machine, the signal is demodulated, decoded, and stored for timely release to the printer. In older fax machines the document was reproduced on special thermally sensitive paper, using a print head that had a row of fine wires corresponding to the photosensors in the scanning strip. In modern machines it is reproduced on plain paper by a xerographic process, in which a minutely focused beam of light from a semiconductor laser or light-emitting diode, modulated by the incoming data stream, is swept on a rotating, electrostatically charged drum. The drum collects the ink powder in charged dots corresponding to black dots on the original document and transfers the toner to the paper.
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Group 3 fax transmission can be done over all telecommunication media, whether copper wire, fiber optic, microwave radio, or cellular radio. In addition, personal computers (PCs) with the appropriate hardware and software can send files directly to fax machines without printing and scanning. Conversely, documents from a remote fax machine can be received by a computer for storage in its memory and eventual reproduction on a desktop printer. Internet fax servers have been developed that can send or receive fax documents and transmit them by e-mail between PCs.
The concepts of fax transmission were developed in the 19th century using contemporary telegraph technology. Widespread use of the method, however, did not occur until the 1980s, when inexpensive means of adapting digitized information to telephone circuits became common. The long and ultimately fruitful history of fax technology is traced in this section.
Fax transmission over wires traces its origins to Alexander Bain, a Scottish mechanic. In 1843, less than seven years after the invention of the telegraph by the American Samuel F.B. Morse, Bain received a British patent for “improvements in the production and regulation of electric currents and improvements in clocks and in electric printing and signal telegraphs.” Bain’s fax transmitter was designed to scan a two-dimensional surface (Bain proposed a type of metal as the surface) by means of a stylus mounted on a pendulum. The invention was never demonstrated.
Frederick Bakewell, an English physicist, was the first to actually demonstrate facsimile transmission. The demonstration took place in London at the Great Exhibition of 1851. Bakewell’s system was slightly different from Bain’s in that the images were transmitted and received on cylinders—a method that was widely practiced during the 1960s. In the transmitter the image to be scanned was written with varnish or some other non-conductive material on tin foil, wrapped around the transmitter cylinder, and then scanned by a conductive stylus which, like Bain’s stylus , was mounted on a pendulum. The cylinder rotates at a uniform rate through a clockwork mechanism. In the receiver a similar stylus driven by the pendulum marked chemically treated paper with an electric current as the receiving cylinder rotated.
Vintage Facsimile Machine
The first commercial facsimile system was introduced between Lyon and Paris, France, in 1863 by Giovanni Caselli, an Italian inventor. The first successful use of optical scanning and photo transmission was demonstrated by Arthur Korn of Germany in 1902. Korn’s transmitter employed a selenium photocell to sense images wrapped around a transparent glass cylinder; in the receiver the transmitted image was recorded on photographic film. By 1906 Korn’s equipment was put into regular service for the transmission of newspaper photographs between Munich and Berlin via telegraphic circuits.
Further deployment of fax transmission had to await the development of improved long-distance telephone service. Between 1920 and 1923 the American Telephone & Telegraph Company (AT&T) worked on telephone fax technology, and in 1924 the telephoto machine was used to send pictures from political conventions in Cleveland, Ohio, and Chicago to New York City for newspaper publication. The telephoto machine used transparent cylindrical drums, which were driven by motors that were synchronized between transmitter and receiver. In the transmitter a positive transparent print was placed on the drum and was scanned by a vacuum tube photoelectric cell. The output of the photocell modulated a carrier signal of 1, 800 hertz, which was subsequently sent on the telephone line. In the unexposed negative receiver it was progressively illuminated by a narrowly focused beam of light, whose intensity corresponded to the output of the photoelectric cell in the transmitter. AT&T’s fax system was capable of transmitting a 12.7 by 17.8 cm (5 by 7 inch) photo in seven minutes with a resolution of 4 lines per mm (100 lines per inch).
Further advances in fax technology occurred during the 1930s and 1940s. In 1948 Western Union introduced its desk-fax service, which was based on a small office machine. About 50,000 desk-fax units were built until the service was discontinued in the 1960s.
Over the years, different manufacturers adopted standards of operability that allowed their machines to communicate with each other, but there was no world standard that allowed American machines, for example, to connect to European fax machines. In 1974 the Consultative Committee International of the Telegraph and Telephone (CCITT) issued its first world fax standard, known as Group 1 fax. Group 1 fax machines were capable of transmitting a document of ‘one page in about six minutes with a resolution of 4 lines per mm using an analog signal format. This standard was followed in 1976 by the CCITT Group 2 facsimile standard, which allowed the transmission of a one-page document in approximately three minutes using an improved modulation scheme.
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Although Group 2 fax machines proved successful in business applications where electronic transmission of documents containing non-textual information such as drawings, diagrams and signatures was required, the slow transmission rate and the cost of terminals ultimately limited the growth of fax services. In response, the CCITT developed standards for a new class of fax machines, now known as Group 3, which uses digital transmission of images through modems. By encoding a scanned image into binary digits, or bits, various methods of image compression (also known as source encoding or redundancy reduction) can be employed to reduce the number of bits required to represent the original image. By combining good source code with a
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