CWNE: Building a Wireless Network Expert

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The Certified Wireless Network Professional (CWNP) program is a vendor-neutral wireless local area network (LAN) certification and training program. There are more than 30 wireless local area network (WLAN) manufacturers that support the CWNP program.

The list includes every major WLAN vendor in the enterprise market, and many are from large vertical markets. The CWNP program has a tiered approach, with certifications ranging from entry-level to expert. Each certification covers a wide range of material for its respective level of knowledge.

The CWNP program has been compared many times to the open-source software movement. It’s the goal of the CWNP program to consistently integrate ideas and feedback received from its constituents and business partners — it has become an IT certification program “by the people, for the people.”

In the beginning, CWNP set company direction partly based on knowledge of the certification industry and partly based on business best practices. Now, with overwhelming participation, the program has taken on a life of its own, having been adopted in as many countries as well-established certification vendors.

CWNP’s entry-level certification is Wireless# (pronounced “wireless sharp”). Wireless# covers a broad array of wireless topics such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, WiMAX, radio frequency identification (RFID), voice-over wireless local area network (VoWLAN), ZigBee and others. This certification is aimed at network support technicians, technical support analysts, retail computer technicians and other similar job roles. All other CWNP certifications focus on only Wi-Fi standards and technologies.

The CWNP program’s foundation-level and most popular Wi-Fi certification is the Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA). CWNA tests a candidate’s knowledge of radio frequency (RF) technologies and site surveying, 802.11 regulations and standards, 802.11 protocols and devices, and wireless network implementation and security. There are CWNA-certified wireless professionals in more than 100 countries, and according to Certification Magazine’s 2006 Salary Survey, the average annual salary CWNA certified professionals earn is $73,690 per year.

Focusing on enterprise 802.11 security, the Certified Wireless Security Professional (CWSP) certification is extremely popular among enterprise consultants and high-level engineers. Topics such as WLAN discovery, attacks, network monitoring, security solutions and security policy are covered in tremendous depth and — equally as important — they keep up with the market’s latest security technologies and offerings. The CWSP certification ranks among the industry’s most valuable IT certifications, according to Certification Magazine’s 2006 Salary Survey, which measured the average annual salary of a network engineer holding the CWSP certification at more than $88,000. IT professionals who earn their CWSP certification are capable of securing any enterprise 802.11 wireless network.

CWNA and CWSP cover administration and security, two of the fundamentals of WLAN implementation. But implementing and securing an enterprise WLAN does not qualify expertise. Experts in wireless networking must understand wireless network design, protocol analysis, spectrum analysis, wireless voice-over Internet protocol (VoIP) and many additional topics. The Certified Wireless Network Expert (CWNE) certification was created to address all these issues and more.

CWNE is more than just a wireless certification — it’s a lifestyle. Examples of job roles in which the CWNE certification will be highly desirable are wireless network architect and enterprise wireless consultant. In today’s world, wireless network engineers often find themselves looking for answers to complex questions for which wireless is only one part of a large networking puzzle.

It is a given that a CWNE must be an experienced network engineer who has at least a moderate, if not advanced, understanding of routing/switching, network security, network design and some application-specific technologies such as VoIP. The CWNE certification’s exam objectives encompass the most complex topics in 802.11 technology today, including protocol analysis, RF spectrum management, and enterprise design and management.

The CWNE certification exam was created in conjunction with an all-volunteer steering committee called the CWNE Roundtable. This diverse group consists of experienced network industry experts with wide-ranging backgrounds in all facets of wireless design and implementation.

Staying abreast of industry changes is a tall order, considering the IEEE 802.11 standard and all the equipment designed for compliance with it are fast-moving targets. Making sense of “standard speak,” marketing jargon and an increasing number of complex new technologies are some of the round table’s responsibilities.

The inaugural round table met in late November 2006 to finalize details of the release of the Version 1.0 exam. The group was excited such a long-anticipated certification finally came to market.

One of the round table’s significant responsibilities is to review all CWNE exam objectives and questions, as well as decide what criteria constitute a “wireless networking expert.” The group’s November meeting included a thorough review of all exam questions, exam objectives and the CWNE application requirements.

Although intense group discussions on complex topics were the norm, it was a fun and unique experience for everyone. The professionalism and commitment of each round table member was apparent.

Knowing the CWNE certification would be introduced in January 2007, many wireless equipment manufacturers and large enterprise organizations began working closely with the CWNP program months before to get their engineers through CWNA and CWSP.

Now, their best engineers are ready to take on the challenges of the in-depth topics covered by the CWNE certification immediately upon its release. Some equipment manufacturers now require their internal support and field engineers to be CWNE certified.

SpectraLink, a wireless workplace telephony company, noted in a recent white paper that CWNP’s WLAN education program has had a profound impact on its support business. The expertise SpectraLink’s support staff gained in Wi-Fi technology enabled the company to deliver faster and more complete resolutions to customers’ problems.

“SpectraLink adopted CWNP training for its staff to ensure that its customer-facing service employees are experts both in wireless LANs and in Wi-Fi telephony,” said Wayne McAllister, SpectraLink vice president of customer services. “As a result, SpectraLink customers enjoy higher-performing systems and faster resolution times, ultimately maximizing the return on their investment.”

Even with the stringent requirements, CWNE adoption is growing much faster than anticipated. Before the official launch date of the CWNE exam, a process was implemented whereby “triple crowners” — those individuals who had obtained CWNA, CWSP and CWAP exams — were allowed to apply for temporary CWNE status (until Dec. 31, 2008).

The pre-launch application process was a bit rigid, so with the launch of the CWNE exam, a new “points schedule” was integrated into the CWNE application process. The points schedule allows flexibility in experience while maintaining rigorous requirements by allowing applicants to earn points in a variety of ways based on their WLAN technology experience.

Given that the CWNE testing and application process is so rigorous, it stands to reason the application review committee would consist of only the best, most experienced WLAN engineers in the industry. For this reason, a group of well-known industry professionals, all CWNE certified, comprise the CWNE Application Review Panel (ARP). This small group i

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