USB Fax Modem

Q: What is a USB fax modem? Do I need one? What kind should I get? How is it used?

A USB fax modem is a dual-purpose (fax and data) communications device that plugs into a USB port in your desktop or notebook computer. A phone line plugs into the fax modem’s standard jack to connect your computer to the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network). Once connected, a fax modem enables your computer to send or receive faxes; connect directly to another computer through the PSTN; or connect to the Internet via a dial-up Internet Service Provider (ISP).

Your computer may already have a fax modem built into it. If one of the ports on your computer is a standard RJ-11 phone line jack, that’s a modem. It is almost 100 percent certain that it’s a fax modem if your computer was made any time since 1990. You can also check your computer’s device manager application to see if a modem is attached and working properly.

A USB fax modem is a convenient solution if your computer does not have a built-in fax modem. It can also replace an older, slower built-in fax modem. Just install the USB fax modem’s driver software and plug the fax modem into a USB port. You computer should detect and configure the fax modem automatically. If not, see the software’s documentation for instructions.

A USB fax modem should include the v.92 (56 Kbps max.) data communicatio standard and the v.34 (33.6 Kbps) fax standard. Other than that, it doesn’t make much difference which USB fax modem you buy. You can expect to pay between $20 and $40 for a USB fax modem, depending on where you shop.

Some USB fax modems come with a short length of cable so they sit a few inches away from your computer; this may enable you to slip another USB device into a second port crowded right next to the fax modem’s. But cable adds bulk. You may prefer an ultra-slim USB fax modem dongle that plugs directly into a USB port, like a flash thumbdrive or a WiFi adapter.

Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7 have built-in fax software that will let you send and receive faxes through a fax modem. Mac users will need to obtain third-party software.

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