Creating complete and professional-looking labels for structured cabling systems has always been a challenge for the installer. Here's what you need to know to fill that gap in the professionalism of your cabling work.

Commercially available handheld label printers are terrific for labeling wires, but they aren't designed for labeling structured cabling systems. Consequently, installers who try to adapt them for the specific application of cabling don't fare very well. Today's network administration standards, such as TIA/EIA 606 with its guidelines for color-coding of network elements, further complicate the installer's task.

Features and benefits of advanced labeling systems An advanced labeling system should address the physical characteristics of the labels and cables themselves. It should also have the ability to interface with the software you use to plan and administer network cabling systems. Such a system must provide cost savings to the installer and tangible benefits to the end user, so you can justify investing in it.

Some of the devices within a structured cabling system that require labels are patch panels, wall-mounted outlets, raceway connection points, modular furniture outlets, telephones, and equipment attachment cables. To achieve greatest efficiency and cost/benefit, these labels must: * Be designed specifically for the devices you will label. * Require no special printing equipment. * Be produced in sets, rather than single counts. * Conform to TIA/EIA 606 color-coding standards.

When labels meet these standards, you will, of course, have a professional-looking installation. It's likely you'll do that installation more efficiently, because you don't have confusion as to what the labels say and what they mean, or rework because of that confusion. However, a truly useful labeling system does more than produce clear, easy-to-read labels. In fact, it should: * Be compatible with planning/administration software. * Allow you to save label set data to a database. * Produce labels from existing spreadsheet data. * Be user friendly.

Because of these requirements, installers of structured cabling systems should consider upgrading to a PC-based labeling system. Such a platform supports labeling software and enables it to interface with spreadsheets and databases.

Creating and managing databases With PC-based labeling systems, you can create labels from data generated during the design of the system. (Conversely, you can save label creation data to a database.) This reduces the potential for errors and eliminates the need to re-input identification codes for each connection point. The network administrator, meanwhile, is able to maintain a file of connection points to the network and make and save changes as needed: almost in real time.

You can create and manage databases with standard database programs, such as Paradox or Access. Since most people are more familiar with spreadsheets than databases, the better systems also allow you to use spreadsheet programs such as Excel or Lotus 1-2-3. In either case, you can import the data into the labeling program, which creates the actual label sets. An alternative is to create label set data within the labeling software and then export your data to a database or spreadsheet.

Labeling software should allow you to create custom port-by-port labels for special requirements. Also, it should have an auto-fill function to produce numerically sequenced labels automatically.

Flexible and portable PC-based labeling allows you to use the system anywhere without purchasing additional equipment. You may create and print labels at your office or transport files via modem or disk to the customer's facility and print them there on a standard laser printer. You could also load your labeling software onto a laptop computer, allowing you to make modifications at the job site.

The power, accessibility, and portability of a PC-based labeling system enables you, as an installer, to reduce labor time and achieve a new level of service without purchasing additional hardware. You can also offer a value-added service to your customers through user-friendly integration of label set data with network administration programs.