How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 841

How does a fax machine send written words over telephone wires? — AM, Halifax, CA
The fax machine uses a row of optical sensors to detect dark and light spots on the original document. It scans the document one line at a time and enters the pattern of dark and light spots into a digital controller or simple computer. The controller or computer than encodes this pattern, together with enough information to correct minor transmission errors if they occur, as a series of numbers. The numbers are then sent through the telephone system in much the same way that computer information is sent through the telephone wires by a modem. The numbers becomes specific patterns of tones and volumes. While the electric currents flowing through the telephone system are meant to represent voice sounds, they can do a moderately good job of representing numbers instead. Because of various limitations on the currents that the phone wires can carry well, the fax system can only so much information each second. The receiving fax machine analyzes the tones and volumes it receives over the telephone wires and recreates the pattern of dark and light spots. It then uses one of several printing techniques to reproduce that pattern on a piece of paper. It recreates the document one line at a time.

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