ThorstenSchmitt - Fotolia
Whether you are an employee or involved on the hiring end, wireless certifications can be extremely helpful in differentiating one wireless professional from another. Not all wireless LAN support pros have certificates to their names, but the right certification can readily convey a specific quantity of WLAN knowledge or experience.
IT professionals can consider a range of wireless certifications, with various significance and weight attached to each one. Let's look at some examples.
Vendor-specific wireless certifications
All major WLAN vendors have their own certifications that cover wireless networking. The well-known Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) and Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) programs all have a wireless concentration option and represent various tiers and depths of knowledge. Aruba Networks offers its own certification program that features wireless- and mobility-specific certificates, as another example of a well-established training program.
Specific wireless certifications are most meaningful to employers that need expertise on specific vendor systems. It's fairly common to see vendor-specific certifications as requirements for a wide range of jobs. They also give ambitious wireless professionals tiered goals to shoot for as they advance in their careers. You will learn a tremendous amount about configurations that enforce the vendor's views on wireless and where wireless fits into the overall network environment, but it may come at the expense of deeper knowledge about general wireless networking.
Need vendor expertise? Try these wireless certifications
Aruba Networks certification with wireless and mobile focus
Vendor-neutral wireless certifications
By far, the biggest player in the vendor-neutral wireless training world is the certification from the Certified Wireless Network Professionals (CWNP). CWNP's training ladder starts with entry-level foundational certificates, with more advanced studies in wireless network administration, design and security. The coveted Certified Wireless Network Expert (CWNE) certificate rounds out CWNP's offerings.
Editor's note: Lee Badman is both a CWNE and a member of the CWNE approval board.
CWNP's curriculum is updated fairly often, with materials developed by real-world WLAN practitioners. Maintaining the various CWNP certifications requires Continuing Education, which helps fuel ongoing learning for those who achieve the certificates.
Another vendor-neutral option is CompTIA, which is fairly well known for its own training offerings, like Network+ and Security+. It currently doesn't offer specific wireless-oriented CompTIA offerings, though you may run across references to the now deprecated Mobility+ cert. Having both the Mobility+ and Network+ certificates, I can vouch that the latest Network+ material does have enough WLAN-related content to be worth pursuing at the entry level. CompTIA certifications are well recognized by employers and are a good first step in self-development.
Specialty wireless certifications and licenses
A slew of other wireless-related certificates and achievements are out there, though some may require an explanation of their value to those unfamiliar with them. As an Air Force veteran, I have hundreds of documented hours of radio frequency-specific training that has been invaluable to my wireless networking career. The same applies to my ham radio license, which is essentially a certification. I'd be far less of a Wi-Fi doer if it wasn't for my non-IT radar and radio experiences.
Some specialty certifications from lesser-known organizations are certainly worth pursuing. Depending on your specific role, you may be required to accomplish a wireless-related certificate you've never heard of before. Consider the Open Source Security Testing Methodology Manual (OSSTMM) Wireless Security Expert (OWSE) certification from the Institute for Security and Open Methodologies (ISECOM). This one is for WLAN security auditors and is thus highly specialized. Also, toolmakers like Ekahau and iBwave offer WLAN design certifications.
Any of these certifications will add to your WLAN-related body of knowledge, and the right wireless certification at the right time could land you your dream job.
Wireless networking is constantly evolving. Education is career survival, and certificates validate the educational process. Are you working on any certifications right now? If not, you probably ought to get busy.
Ready for the CCNA exam? Take this quiz to find out
Learn how to troubleshoot wireless network problems