Sending a Mailgram is probably old hat for many businesses in the United States. But by 1995 some 30% of all business correspondence will be sent electronically and may never be printed on paper, according to Predicasts Inc., a Cleveland-based research firm. Today's figure is less than 2%.

The report forecasts that conventional first-class correspondence and telephone calls will continue to be the dominant forms of business communication. But because more than half of all business calls fail to reach the right person on the first attempt, Predicasts notes that electronic messages will become increasingly popular.

Dramatic growth is expected in the two categories of electronic messages. The first type, while sent electronically, ultimately becomes a message printed on paper, or a "hard" copy, and can be hand-delivered to a business or home. In this category are traditional telex messages and services such as the U.S. Postal Service's new E-COM. More revolutionary, however, is the electronic communication known as document distribution. Under this system, internal reports and memos are transmitted using electronic screens. Shifting into hard copy is optional.

Document distribution, which bypasses the Postal Service entirely, is expected to become widespread, especially among large companies that can upgrade their word-processing systems to handle intracompany communications. Thus far, admits Tony Mallia, application product line director at Wang Laboratories in Lowell, Mass., such distribution of documents has been slow to catch on because of the high cost of hardware. But Mallia anticipates that equipment costs will decline over the next decade and expand the market for big corporate users.

In the short run, most small firms that want to send messages quickly are expected to make greater use of electronic message service offered by the U.S. Postal Service, Western Union, and others. But small companies with significant amounts of correspondence with a larger business may find it economical to adopt that company's document distribution system. Without industrywide standards as yet to make it possible for different brand systems to communicate with one another, Mallia says, "it's tough for the small business to justify going this route unless you have significant traffic."