Technology / Networking

How to Pass the CWNE

by Landon D. Foster
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Published on August 30, 2021

The highly sought after Certified Wireless Network Expert (CNWE) certification is the pinnacle of the WiFi track in the CWNE curriculum. CWNE is a bit of an odd beast in the certification world in that it doesn't have an explicit test for the certification itself. CWNE is instead more to be regarded as a "capstone" to the track in that one must pass several other certs and instead apply for the CWNE designation.

The CWNE for this reason has more in common with a physician's board certification than, say, the CCIE. Instead of a score, it is submitted in packet format to the CWNE board of advisors, "sitting" CWNEs who volunteer to vet applicants on a rotational basis. The certifications that one must pass previous to submitting include one foundational certification and three professional level certifications. Here's an overview of the exams and how you can earn the CWNE.

The Prerequisite Exams

CWNA (WiFi administration) is the first on the track to be required, and is considered a foundational certification. This certification covers the basics of how 802.11 was developed, and how to manage and recognize its behavior and characteristics. It is a requirement for progressing up the hierarchy and must be taken before any of the professional certifications are taken. You can test for any of the exams before CWNA, but they will not be considered active until you complete this test.

CWAP (Analysis professional) is one of the professional-level exams. They cover much more in-depth knowledge and engender more sophisticated understanding of 802.11. These exams may be taken in any order, after one completes the CWNA; That said, there is a contentious debate about what order to take the exams in. The majority of other CWNEs suggest taking CWAP first. CWAP builds on what CWNA teaches about how 802.11 works mechanically, with specific emphasis on analyzing both the physical behaviors of RF such as phase and interference, and the Digital behaviors of 802.11 like packet/frame structure and contention. It is suggested as the first certification in the pro level because it's like learning how to build an engine. If you know how all the parts work, and work together, extending that knowledge to either enhancing the secure aspects of a network or designing a sound network makes much more sense.

CWDP (Design professional) is a certification built around designing a 802.11 network for a variety of environments and use cases. CWDP is a great framework to launch into Ekahau or Airmagnet — or your favorite survey tool. It teaches the fundamentals of what to look for and what one doesn't want to see in a design as well as enhancing your understanding of RF propagation. It's suggested if you're going to be designing a lot to pursue an outside certification specific to your tools as well, such as Ekahau Certified Survey Engineer (ECSE).

CWSP (Security professional) covers the finer points of securing or remediating security in an 802.11. It provides emphasis on a basic understanding of cryptography, extant security methods over the air, and the wired-side methods of security commonly implemented.  It also covers tools like WIPS/WIDS, common compliance to regulations (FIPS, HIPAA etc) and creating / evaluating policy.

CWISA (IoT Solutions Admin) is the IoT twin to the CWNA. It covers many of the same topics, but with an emphasis on non-802.11 RF systems such as Wi-HART, ISA100.11a and Sigfox. It is the Foundational-level certification for the relatively new IoT track, which with the addition of CWIDP summer 2020, will form the path to CWNE's sister expert cert, CWISE.

Other Certification Options

To ensure a more well-rounded candidate, CWNP requires one other required certification from another organization of the applicant's choice. Common choices are COMPTIA or vendors such as Cisco or Juniper. It is highly suggested to pursue a vendor specific certification. CWNP does an excellent job of teaching how the standard and PHYs work (what buttons do) but vendor certs are directly applicable if you're working on that particular vendor (where the buttons are).

What Experience is Required

CWNE applicants are required to have a minimum of three years professional experience with enterprise wireless networks, verified by resume or C/V. For example, being your church's volunteer network admin once a month will not count toward this. But being employed by a large church for five years to admin a network that includes a large wireless employment generally will. For most, by the time you get all the required certifications to apply, this will not be a large issue.

You'll Need Endorsements

You are required to have three people that you have worked with directly, or who have knowledge of your expertise, to submit "blind" recommendations for you. Think of it like college applications. Ut is "sealed" by being input into an online form instead of an email that can be bcc'd, or otherwise vetted by the applicant. Applicants are not informed of the content. It is unofficially known that a "sitting" or valid CWNE is a good pick for at least one of these. Many CWNEs, the author included, actively vet candidates and take time to sit down digitally with them to help out. A great place to check is twitter (Yes, really!). The wireless community is very open and active on twitter.

Get Ready for Publication

A large part of being a CWNE holder is giving back to the community by sharing the knowledge you've obtained as an expert. For this reason, you must have at least one publication. The most common ways to achieve this is hosting webinars, teaching classes, running a 802.11 centered blog (more than six months),or something more traditionally published like an article or a full book. This must be made available without reservation to the board; you may censor or redact information as needed, so long as the content is consumable and demonstrates your expertise. You also must submit three essays for the board to review.

A CWNE should be experienced at sharing their own knowledge and thoughts in a consumable manner. These essays should be descriptions of projects that you contributed to or completed yourself and must be between 500 and 1000 words. In the authors’ experience the constraint for most is writing less and not going over, not struggling to complete 500 words. For example, from the beginning of this article to the "Experience" subhead alone is about 700 words. The big part of the essays is demonstrating that you understand 802.11 at a deep level and explaining your reasoning to the board. Remember, you're not teaching the board members, you're simply relating an experience. Don't be afraid to reach out to a CWNE to help you format, and review for content.

Application Costs and Submission

The CWNE application requires a prepaid fee of $500 that essentially replaces the part where you'd be purchasing a test voucher for your exam. This fee isn't refundable, but at the time of this writing, applicants are allowed to resubmit the application once without additional fee in most cases. After the second submission, the fee must be paid again. This is partially, of course to fund the organization, but also to deter frivolous submissions. The board that reviews these applications is made up of unpaid volunteers. It bears mentioning that one of the other most applied to expert level certifications, CCIE, requires not only a fee for the written exam, but a $1,500 lab fee and of course subsidizing your own travel to the relevant lab/s which are limited.

As before, if you're ready to submit, and the cost is a barrier to you, try reaching out on Twitter. There are people who would love to help someone in genuine need. The application can be submitted through a portal which guides you through the process. After you submit your application, then comes the hardest part — waiting. In the past, applications have taken a very, very long time. I submitted in January and received a positive response in July of the same year. Luckily, and to CWNP's credit, this has been enormously mitigated. Most applications are turned around in a month or less and when you submit your application you'll receive a link to check your status. The inbuilt tracker will be more elaborate, but roughly it will go through a few steps: submittal, admin review (completeness), Doc review (format, usability) submission to board, board active review, and your decision.

After you receive a positive decision, you'll get your very own number! Each is unique. As of this writing, there are only 432 CWNEs worldwide, compared to the CCIE, which has about 38,000 past and present recipients. So get going, and get submitted!


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