USB Fax Modem

I travel with my laptop quite a bit and typically have two problems when I’m on the road. First, not everywhere I go has wireless Internet access, so I need to be able to dial in with a modem to check my e-mail. Second, I sometimes need to send faxes while I’m out of town. A colleague recommended that I get a USB fax modem for my laptop. Is this the best solution?

It sounds like a USB fax modem will do everything you need. Here’s how it works: you’ll plug it into a USB port on your laptop, and plug a phone line into the fax modem. This assumes, of course, that you’re at a hotel or other location with a regular phone line. From there you can dial in to your Internet service provider to check your e-mail, or even browse the web, although it will be pretty slow. (Fax modems are limited to 56 kilobits per second, a lot slower than the broadband speeds that many of us have become accustomed to.) You’ll also need an account with an Internet service provider, and your hotel may charge you long distance rates for dialing it. However, some ISPs offer local numbers nationwide catering to mobile users like you. This type of account, available from America Online, Earthlink, NetZero, and many other companies, is typically available for $10 to $15 per month.

The other part of the equation is sending faxes. For that, you’ll need that same modem and phone line plus fax software on your computer. Chances are that your computer already has the fax software — it’s built into Windows XP and MacOS X — or that your fax modem was bundled with software for transmitting faxes. So you’re covered one way or the other.

Sending faxes won’t involve your ISP: your fax modem will dial the recipient’s fax machine directly. Again, you may have to contend with long distance charges.

This setup won’t help you with receiving faxes, however. In order to receive a fax, the fax modem needs to be plugged in and the computer waiting with a phone line connected — not an option while you’re traveling. If you need to be able to receive faxes at any time, sign up with a fax service provider that delivers faxes to your e-mail box.

Do you have a question about faxing? Send us your fax question.