4 Most Valuable Certifications for a Wireless Career
Wireless engineering is everywhere. Internal engineers and IT consultants around the world deploy wireless solutions every day for companies. There are few professionals, however, who have the skills and resume to land these high-paying roles. The difference between a wireless generalist and wireless engineers is certifications.
Certifications prove that you know your stuff, understand best practices, and are capable of delivering great solutions. The four best certs to advance your wireless career are: CWNA – Certified Wireless Network Administrator, CWSP – Certified Wireless Security Professional, CWDP – Certified Wireless Design Professional, and CWNE – Certified Wireless Network Expert.
Let's take a look at what it takes to get certified and explore each of these four certifications and the skills they validate.
How to Get Certified in Wireless
The first certification to work on if you are considering expanding your credentials as a wireless engineer is the CWNA certification from Certified Wireless Networking Professionals (CWNP). This certification is the base that the other professional certifications, such as CWSP, CWDP, and CWNE are built upon. The certification lasts for three years, at which point the CWNP requires that you retake the CWNA exam, or preferably, take one of the professional certification exams to renew.
You must pass the exam with a 70% score or better (80% for instructors) and the CWNP recommends having professional wireless experience or achieving either the Certified Wireless Specialist (CWS) or Certified Wireless Technician (CWT) certifications, though this is not strictly required.
You can do this even if you don’t have a job in IT or wireless technologies specifically. You can experiment with many of the concepts and protocols in the study materials using your own home wireless network or by offering to help with a wireless project for a local nonprofit organization.
The exam you must pass to achieve the CWNA certification costs $225.00 (USD) and is administered by Pearson Vue. You can take the exam at a local testing center that is Pearson Vue-approved or online via your home PC. Once you have achieved the CWNA certification, you’ll be able to study for and take exams for the CWSP, CWDP, and CWNE certifications.
The Benefits of Wireless Certification
Most people tend to consider the primary benefit of certifications to be increased salaries and faster career progression, which is true (we’ll talk about that later). But one of the most overlooked benefits of earning certifications is the knowledge and deeper understanding of the technology you'll gain.
Many people go to school, graduate, get a job, and stop learning. They learn what they need to get their job done, but because they are not in an environment of continuous learning, they are not pushed to learn new technologies and practices.
Studying for certifications is one way to create a continuous learning environment for yourself, without spending as much money to go back to school. Certification is aimed at proving that you understand a common set of concepts and skills, which makes the content very structured.
Studying for any certification will undoubtedly introduce you to new technologies and skills. I have found that studying for and achieving certifications has made me better at technical troubleshooting, explaining concepts to business stakeholders, and making decisions about new technology deployments.
CWNA: Pay and Career Progression
The CWNA certification is an industry-standard and widely recognized certification that will prove that you understand wireless technologies — and are capable of delivering quality wireless solutions. Certifications can make the job search and networking experience much easier. They provide everyone a common language around skills, technical concepts, and best practices. The result is better pay and more opportunities for growth in your career path as a wireless engineer.
Certifications from the CWNP also hold a lot of value in general network engineering roles, and companies will often seek candidates who hold these certifications. Here are estimated salary ranges for each level of certification, based on data from the CWNP.
CWNA: $71,000 – $105,000
CWSP: $99,200 – $138,000
CWDP: $115,000 – $165,000
CWNE $157,000 – $262,000
When to Earn the CWNA
The CWNP certifications and their corresponding exams cover many areas of wireless networking. The CWNA exam tests the base level of understanding for wireless local area networks (WLANs) and includes topics such as radio frequency theory, antennas and intentional radiators, hardware and software used in WLAN deployments. They also cover networking basics including network design and management, wireless standards, security, and site surveys.
When to Earn the CWSP
CWSP certification focuses specifically on security and covers topics such as WLAN discovery methods, wireless intrusion prevention (WIPS) systems, Layer 2 and 3 VPNs over 802.11 networks, fast and secure roaming technologies, and wireless network management systems.
When to Earn the CWDP
The CWDP certification builds on the concepts covered by the CWSP, focusing on BYOD policies, location services like RTLS, voice over WLAN (VoWLAN) technologies, building and infrastructure requirements, and standard deployment architectures.
Those who earn CWDO certification should be able to design vastly different types of wireless architectures — from small indoor spaces to large outdoor venues and point-to-point backhaul networks.
When to Earn the CWNE
Finally, the CWNE certification rounds out all of the focus areas within the wireless engineering field in one master certification. It is the most difficult to achieve and requires that you have obtained the CWNA, CWSP, CWAP, CWDP, and CWISA certifications. You must also have obtained one other professionally recognized networking certification with a focus on VoIP, routing and switching, security, or network design to qualify.
But wait, there’s more requirements. CWNP has a defined code of ethics to be adhered to by anyone achieving the CWNE certification. Application for this certification also requires three recommendations and a peer review by the CWNE board of advisors. While these requirements are strict, the certification itself is so valuable. There are only 299 CWNE certification holders in the United States and 429 worldwide. So, if you earn the CWNE, your career opportunities and salary will be lucrative.
How to Study for Wireless Networking Certification Exams
One of the best resources for studying for CWNP is the CWNP website. There you will find a full list of its certifications, their respective topics of coverage, and various study materials.
One of the best ways to absorb and retain a large amount of technical information is to hand write notes as you read textbooks and other study materials. This kinesthetic and visual practice seems to more deeply engrain the knowledge in your thinking. In time, you will find that you can refer to best practices and technical standards by memory, which will make passing the exams straightforward.
There is no wireless networking professional quite as detailed, professional, and capable as a CWNP-certified wireless engineer. Achieving any one of these four certifications will accelerate your growth and career journey. Investing in good training, spending time practicing with labs, and testing and reviewing your work will help you pass these exams — and ultimately change your future for the better.