Retro Tech Where the Fax Lives On

Retarus, a mid-sized German technology company, has found success breathing new life into older forms of communications such as email, text messaging and even the fax.
Hello? You've got a fax from the 1990s.

WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter? Martin Hager has certainly heard of them. But the manager and owner of the Munich-based information technology provider Retarus earns his money with the communication methods of earlier decades: fax, email and text messaging.

Long ago declared dead by many tech trendsetters, these older technologies are bringing growth to Retarus. Revenues of the mid-sized company grew by almost a fifth to €50 million, or $54.4 million, in the last business year.

Up to 9,000 faxes per minute are processed through the large computers of the family-owned firm, a total of three million per day. Retarus looks after the transmission of the pages. The fax equipment itself comes from other manufacturers.

“The world talks about champagne, but it drinks wine,” Mr. Hager said in describing his business. That means social networks are all well and good, but when things get serious, many firms still depend on traditional technology, especially on faxes. “They are time-tested, standardized and above all legally recognized,” Mr. Hager said.

Even dynamic start-ups, such as German online food-ordering platform Lieferheld, don't dispense with paper. Every day, many delivery services send thousands of customer orders via fax to the connected restaurants and use Retarus' server for that purpose. The reasons are simple. In most kitchens, there are neither smartphones nor tablets — that wouldn't be practical amid the humidity of the pots and ovens, and drivers often can't afford expensive mobile computers.

Political parties in America frequently use text messaging to mobilize their supporters, which could boost the U.S. operations of Retarus.

Indeed, even text messaging, or SMS for Short Message Service, lives on at Retarus.

Thus optician firm Apollo sends text messages via mobile phones to customers about when they can pick up their glasses and contact lenses from one of its 800 stores in Germany. Car rental company Sixt also sends information to its users via SMS. Retarus provides the service.

In view of the boom in messaging services such as WhatsApp and social networks, emails in companies are also considered by many to be passé. Nevertheless, Retarus' business with email services is growing.

Large IT companies got out of the supposedly retrograde business a good while ago. Google, for example, shut down its email provider Postini two years ago despite having paid more than $600 million in 2007 for the firm in order to conquer the email market for business customers.

This represents a chance for Retarus. From its headquarters in Munich, the company is operating worldwide including computing centers in America, Singapore and Australia. Large companies such as Adidas, BMW and Puma depend on Retarus to operate their fax networks or to check their emails for viruses.

Retarus owner Mr. Hager is looking forward to the 2016 presidential campaign in the United States. Admittedly, even President Barack Obama now uses Twitter. But political parties in America frequently use text messaging in order to mobilize their followers. This could boost Retarus’ U.S. operations.

Mr. Hager intends to get in touch with political parties in Germany. Many email advertisements quickly end up in the spam folder, but today scarcely anyone misses a text. “People look at it,” said Mr. Hager.

He intends to cultivate the old-school means of communication for years to come. Mr. Hager considers his chances of succeeding good. The triumphal procession of digital media, for example, hasn’t caused books to disappear.


Joachim Hofer is Handelsblatt’s Munich correspondent. To contact him: [email protected]