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Cisco introduces wireless CCIE pinnacle for aspiring networking gurus

For aspiring wireless gurus, Cisco has raised the bar: The wireless CCIE is almost here for those with enough experience -- and willpower -- to take the written and lab exams.

Cisco has announced a new CCIE Wireless certification that focuses on the design and implementation of wireless LAN networks.

Cisco's less advanced wireless certifications, the CCNA and CCNP, have certified networking pros to support and troubleshoot wireless networks, but the new CCIE takes expertise to a new level.

"A lot of folks at the associate or professional level are providing support and troubleshooting," said Sanjay Mehta, Cisco product marketing manager for wireless and mobility. "We want an expert-level candidate or certification holder to be able to plan, design and implement a wireless network."

The CCIE will also complete the path to Cisco "Expert" status that wireless CCNA and CCNP certifications began.

"CCIE, the top-tier certification Cisco offers, isn't designed to be a mass-appeal certification," said Cushing Anderson, program vice president at IDC. "They only get in the neighborhood of 3,000 certified a year."

But that, Anderson said, is part of the point: It's the pinnacle of a certification pyramid, and by adding the CCIE to the wireless track, Cisco is laying out a more complete skills development trajectory for aspiring wireless network specialists.

It also better defines the hierarchy of wireless and helps flesh out the broad range of needs that exist for skilled wireless gurus.

"There's a range of skills that lead up to CCIE wireless," Anderson said, "and most of the work happens below that apex in the pyramid."

The certification will also be focused on fundamentals that are not likely to go away with the next 802.11 standard, Mehta said.

"The fundamentals, we believe, will always remain the same," he said. "Getting this today, there should be no fear in a candidate's heart or mind that, a year or two from now, it will be obsolete."

Cisco will refresh its certification program approximately every two years, with the next update likely to integrate WiMax and other 4G technologies, Mehta said. But today's CCIE recipients will still command the necessary wireless networking skills that will be called for in the future.

Cisco CCIE Wireless Certification By the Numbers:

Written: $350
Lab: $1,400

Written: 100 multiple choice over 120 minutes
Lab: Approximately 4 scenarios* over 8 hours  

Written: Feb. 17, 2008
Lab: April 2009  

*Learning@Cisco cautioned this number will vary widely between testing dates and locations.

"At the end of the day, the core, the foundation, that's not going to change," he said.

Cisco is expecting strong interest in the elite certification status: 456 networking professionals signed up to take the beta, well over the 100 that Cisco expected and more participants than in any other CCIE beta ever.

A wireless networking watershed

Cisco is betting that wireless will soon play a more critical role in day-to-day enterprise networking, regardless of the current economic climate.

"Thirty-six percent of the global companies surveyed reported that they have dedicated wireless specialists on their IT staff," said Christine Yoshida, a Cisco senior manager of learning and development. "That number will almost double in the next five years."

Cisco is not alone in that prediction: Forrester analyst Chris Silva recently said wireless LAN investments would remain robust, driven by sound business cases.

According to Cisco's data, wireless will be an even bigger growth area than the other two hot networking specialties, security and voice.

"There is a pervasive need for wireless networking skills, not just in North America but globally," Mehta said. "This will translate into more money, job security and promotions for the expert who goes into wireless."

And though certifications may be losing relative value in terms of career advancement, Anderson said, Cisco's CCIE wireless certification could still be a worthwhile addition for those striving to break into the upper echelon of wireless experts.

"Your enterprise may want you to be certified," he said. "Even if they reward you [with a] 9% instead of 12% raise, that's still 9% you're going to keep forever.

For networking professionals working as consultants or integrators, the certification can be even more important.

"If you're trying to demonstrate your value to customers, that's one way to do it," Anderson said.

The written exam portion of the CCIE wireless certification will be available Feb. 17. The lab portion will follow in April. More information is available at the Cisco CCIE Wireless homepage, or at SearchNetworking's certification landing page.

Think Cisco's wireless CCIE announcement is spot on? Think this wireless thing is a fad? Email your thoughts on this or any other topic directly to the author.

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