1. Get the Job
  2. Get Ahead
  3. Office Life
  4. Work-Life Balance
  5. Home Office
Product and service reviews are conducted independently by our editorial team, but we sometimes make money when you click on links. Learn more.
Build Your Career Get Ahead

Best Telecommunications Certifications 2019

Best Telecommunications Certifications 2019
Credit: Sahacha Nilkumhang/Shutterstock

When it comes to bringing people and systems together, networking is often required to make all the right connections and technologies work. However, there's a lot more than just networking involved in telecommunications certifications and the technologies they cover.

Here, we cover a variety of certifications, including classic telecommunications and telecommunications networking. Our top five picks include a Telecommunications Certification Organization (TCO) credential as well as a vendor-neutral Master Technician credential from NCTI.

You will also read about engineering-oriented communications certifications, such as the Internet Protocol Engineering Professional (IPEP), the iNARTE Telecommunications Engineer and a distribution credential from the Building Industry Consulting Service International (BICSI), originally a building trades association. The BICSI certification is in such high standing that, for some job roles, it's a Department of Defense requirement.

There's more than ordinary networking involved in many of these credentials, because voice and streaming media traffic come with certain unavoidable and important requirements for limited latency and quick delivery. These are necessary for real-time voice and video communications to occur, and for streaming media delivery to provide an acceptable user experience without hiccups. Thus, there's a vital service-level establishment, monitoring and troubleshooting component in these credentials.

There's also a large collection of protocols and services that certified professionals must know to install, configure, manage, and troubleshoot, above and beyond the usual TCP/IP basics commonly found in internet-connected networking environments.

We searched several job boards for telecommunications certifications and compiled those results. Note that they are a snapshot in time, and several factors affect them. For example, you can expect to see fewer listings for the most senior certifications because fewer people possess them. Also, results vary considerably depending on the job board. Although the table below doesn't reflect it, the Cisco CCNA and CCNP and the CompTIA Network+ certifications appear in many telecom job descriptions, along with the featured certs, and, in some cases, are part of the recommended training for our featured certs.

Certification

Simply Hired

Indeed

LinkedIn Jobs

LinkUp

Total

CTNS (TCO)

4

4

6

1

15

iNARTE Telecommunications Engineer

14

15

28

11

68

IPEP (SCTE)

2

2

6

1

31

NCTI Master Technician (NCTI)

3

7

18

1

29

RCDD (BICSI)

257

353

435

107

1,152

What can a person expect to make in the telecommunications industry? Simply Hired reports an average salary of $46,490 for telecommunications technicians and $93,450 for telecom engineers with highs of almost $136,000. Glassdoor reports similar salaries for technicians at $48,645 with slightly lower salaries for engineers at $86,527.

The Certified Telecommunications Network Specialist (CTNS) certification offered by the Telecommunications Certification Organization (TCO) is aimed at project team members, managers, analysts, planners and developers who need to understand telecom networking fundamentals, including services and infrastructure requirements. A CTNS usually works for a telecommunications services provider, reseller or telecom equipment manufacturer.

Achieving the CTNS requires attending six courses and passing the six respective exams. Exam topics cover traditional telephony, wireless communications, carrier networks and a host of more general networking topics, such as the OSI reference model and protocols, Ethernet LANs, virtual networking, networking equipment, and addressing.

All exams and courses are administered by Teracom Training Institute (TTI). Candidates can purchase a certification package that includes all six courses, along with unlimited passes through the courseware and exam repeats, as well as a pass guarantee, for $219. The current bundle includes a bonus "Fundamentals of Voice over IP" course.

TCO offers the Certified IP Telecom Network Specialist (CIPTS) certification, which focuses on IP networking and not telephony or wireless. TCO cites AT&T software developers working on nationwide IP VPN services as an example of the type of professional who acquires this certification. The organization also offers the Certified Wireless Analyst (CWA) and Certified Telecommunications Analyst (CTA) certifications.

Certification name

Certified Telecommunications Network Specialist (CTNS)

Prerequisites & required courses

Six required courses:

2201: The PSTN

2206: Wireless Telecommunications

2212: OSI Layers and Protocol Stacks

2211: Ethernet, LANs and VLANs

2213: IP Networks, IP Addresses, Packets, and Routers 

2214: MPLS and Carrier Networks

Number of exams

Six (one per course; most exams are 10 multiple-choice questions)

Cost per exam

$219 for certification package (includes all six courses with unlimited course and exam repeats). Courses and exams from the Teracom Training Institute (TTI).

URL

https://www.certify-tco.org/

Self-study materials

Course outlines and objectives contained on respective exam pages. Previews, free lessons and interactive tutorials available from TTI. There is also a self-study textbook available in print and e-book formats.

iNARTE is the International Association for Radio, Telecommunications and Electromagnetics, an industry group founded in 1982 to develop and implement a certification program for telecommunications engineers and technicians. Since then, iNARTE has added certifications for wireless system installers and product safety engineers and technicians, among others. After its merging with RABQSA International in 2012, the two organizations are known formally as Exemplar Global.

The iNARTE Telecommunications certification program includes the Telecommunications Technician and Telecommunications Engineer credentials, geared toward many facets of the industry, including networking (LAN and WAN), cellular and satellite. Both have Junior, Senior and Master credential levels.

Each level of the Telecommunications Engineer certification requires an increased number of years in the workforce. The Junior level requires at least four years of related work experience, the Senior level requires six years, and the Master requires eight. Each level also requires the candidate to provide references from one supervisor and two or three peers and to pass an exam. The Master and Senior level credentials each require that candidates hold the lower level certification for at least one year to qualify.

Once you achieve the Junior Telecommunications Engineer credential, you can upgrade to the Senior level by meeting all requirements. The same applies to an upgrade from the Senior level to Master. To maintain membership and be listed in the iNARTE Certified Professionals database on the organization's website, candidates must renew annually.

Certification name

iNARTE Telecommunications Engineer

Prerequisites & required courses

Master Engineer: iNARTE Senior Engineer (for at least one year)

Senior Engineer: iNARTE Junior Engineer (for at least one year)

Four years of relevant work experience for Junior level, six years for Senior level and eight years for Master level (resume or completion of Detailed Work History form required)

Copy of university transcript or diploma required

A current FCC General Radiotelephone Operator License (GROL)
References from one supervisor and two peers (the Master level requires three peers)

Agree to the iNARTE Code of Ethics

Number of exams

One per level (minimum score of 75 percent)

Cost per exam

Application and exam fees: $110: Junior Telecommunications Engineer

$130: Senior Telecommunications Engineer

$145: Master Telecommunications Engineer

Exams offered by several different proctors worldwide; exam proctor may change an additional fee.

URL

http://www.inarte.org/certifications/inarte-telecommunications-certification/

Self-study materials

Recommended material: Reference Data for Engineers: Radio, Electronics, Computer and Communications Computer and Communications, 9th edition, by Mac E. Van Valkenburg and Wendy M. Middleton

The Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) is a member-driven organization that serves as the "technical and applied science leader for the cable telecommunications industry." SCTE offers several professional certifications for installers, technicians, designers and engineers who support residential and commercial projects as well as access networks.

The Internet Protocol Engineering Professional (IPEP) certification recognizes a professional's expertise in designing, deploying, testing, integrating and troubleshooting various IP systems. Candidates must pass a single exam to earn the IPEP credential, which covers general networking theory, IP theory, network design and performance analysis, DOCSIS, IP network deployment, operation and testing, and multimedia over IP. There is also a section on standards and internet-related organizations.

The IPEP is valid for three years. Credential holders must earn 21 recertification units (RUs) within the three-year period to maintain the IPEP certification, or retake the exam.

Certification name

Internet Protocol Engineering Professional (IPEP)

Prerequisites & required courses

None 

Recommended training:
Essentials of Internet Protocol Networking
SCTE CCNA Virtual Classroom coursesIPv6: Impact on Cable Networks
Channel Bonding in DOCSIS 3.0
CCNP ROUTE courses

Number of exams

One (50 multiple-choice questions, three hours)

Cost per exam

$160 member/$210 nonmember; SCTE exams offered online
$85 annual SCTE membership

URL

http://www.scte.org/ipep
All SCTE certifications: http://www.scte.org/SCTE/Certification/ProfessionalCertifications.aspx

Self-study materials

The IPEP Certification Study Resources webpage provides a concise list of courses, books and documentation. The certification page (URL above) provides links to exam topics and objectives, and information on grants and scholarships.

The Master Technician certification is a professional-level, vendor-neutral credential offered by NCTI. Depending on your learning goals, at NCTI, you'll find broadband and telecom learning opportunities in a variety of formats ranging from certifications, professional (college level) certificate programs as well as college degrees.

According to NCTI, almost 500,000 professionals have benefited from NCTI training courses and tens of thousands of college credits in broadband technologies have been issued. Many NCTI courses are accredited and credit obtained as a part of training courses can be applied to college-level certificate programs or degrees.

Currently, NCTI offers the following educational and training opportunities:

  • College degree programs: Three degrees offered: Associate of Applied Science in Broadband Technology, Associate of Applied Science in Broadband Leadership and Associate of Applied Science in Customer Care.
  • College-level certificate programs: Certificate programs include Broadband Technology, Customer Care and Broadband Leadership.
  • NCTI Certifications:  Four certifications are available in Master Technician, Master Representative, Master Dispatcher and Emerging Leader.

For purposes of this article, we've chosen to focus on the Master Technician credential and more specifically, the Master Technician solution track, since it most closely aligns with the other certifications in this article. The Master Technician credential is available in five solution tracks:

  • Master Installer (MI): Targets professionals well-versed in broadband cable installation, best practices and new technologies. Six courses are required.
  • Master Technician (MT): The Master Technician credential is focused on professionals who are experts in drop installations and broadband networks. Earning the designation requires completion of seven courses.
  • Master Technician, HFC Networks (MTH): This credential focuses on HFC network maintenance, fiber optic systems, and maintenance of two-way analog and digital services. Seven courses are required to earn this credential.
  • Master Technician, Customer Premises (MTC): This credential is geared to professionals who manage all aspects of digital services from distribution to customer devices. Candidates should also possess the ability to perform installations, troubleshoot issues and maintain systems.
  • Senior Master Technician (SMT): Senior Master Technicians are the highest level of master technician certification available. To earn the designation, candidates must be versed in HFC networks, drop installation and complete the Understanding Voice and Data Networks course and possess the MTH and MTC credentials.

All courses and associated exams are offered online, so candidates need an internet connection. Exam fees, along with e-books, are included with the course fees. While courses are required, candidates have the option of taking an equivalency exam. The MT is valid for three years after which candidates must pass a recertification exam.

Certification name

Master Technician

Prerequisites & required courses

Seven recommended courses:

Installer ($545)

Installer Technician ($740)

Service Technician ($740)

System Technician ($740)

Fiber Installation and Activation ($650)

Fiber Testing and Maintenance ($650)

Advanced Technician ($740)

*Candidates may substitute the Fiber Optics Technician course for the Fiber Installation and Activation and Fiber Testing and Maintenance courses.

Candidates may attempt an equivalency exam for any of the required courses.

Number of exams

One exam per module (seven exams total)

Cost per exam

Exam fee included in cost of course

Fiber Installation and Activation and Fiber Testing and Maintenance are $650 each; Installer Technician, Service Technician, System Technician, and Advanced Technician are $740 each; Installer course is $545 ($4,805 total)

Equivalency exam attempt: $105

Recertification exams: $59

URL

https://www.ncti.com/certificates-degrees/ncti-certifications

Self-study materials

NCTI provides e-books with course materials but textbooks are available for purchase. NCTI courseware is highly recommended.

The Registered Communications Distribution Designer (RCDD) certification offered by Building Industry Consulting Service International (BICSI) is one of several engineering-oriented IT communications credentials from this design and implementation engineering-oriented organization.

Under the Unified Facilities Criteria (PDF available here), the RCDD is required for individuals who work for or with the U.S. Department of Defense on telecom-related design projects. Thus, the RCDD is in reasonably high demand to service that one major source of activity by itself and is also popular with high-end architecture, design, and premises engineering firms.

The RCDD is a long-standing credential; it's been around since 1984 and focuses on the design, integration, and implementation of information and communications technology (ICT) systems and related infrastructure components.

Other BISCI credentials include the following:

  • Registered Telecommunications Project Manager (RTPM)
  • Data Center Design Consultant (DCDC)
  • Outside Plant Designer (OSP)
  • Installer 1 (INST1)
  • Installer 2, Copper (INSTC)
  • Installer 2, Optical Fiber (INSTF)
  • Technician (TECH)

The RCDD certification is valid for three years. To recertify, candidates must earn 45 approved continuing education credits (CECs) and attend at least one BICSI conference as a part of the CEC credits. A renewal fee of $195 if renewing online ($225 if renewing through paper) for members ($325 for nonmembers) applies.

Certification name

Registered Communications Distributions Designer (RCDD)

Prerequisites & required courses

Application, current resume, copy of degree, plus four letters of reference (one person, one from current employer and two from clients or customers)

Five years of information and communications technology (ICT) design experience (must be within the past 10 years)

OR

Two years of ICT design experience (must be within the past 10 years) and three years of additional ICT equivalents, which may be a combination of experience, education and ICT license/certification

Recommended courses:

DD101: BICSI CONNECT: Foundations of Telecommunications Distribution Design ($1,030, online, self-paced)

DD102: Designing Telecommunications Distribution Systems ($2,815, 5-day, in-person)

RCDD Test Preparation Course ($925, online, self-paced)

150 or more of independent study

BICSI TDM flashcards

Number of exams

One: based on BICSI's Telecommunications Distribution Methods Manual or TDMM (100 questions, multiple choice, 2.5 hours)

Cost per exam

Nonrefundable application fee: $495 members/$725 nonmembers; application fee includes first exam attempt

Exam retest fee: $225 members; $340 nonmembers

Exams administered by Pearson VUE. Candidate ID and BICSI approval required to register for exam

URL

RCDD page: www.bicsi.org/rcdd

Self-study materials

BICSI's ICT Terminology Handbook, Version 2.0 (free download)
Telecommunications Distribution Methods Manual (TDMM), 13th Edition; electronic download or print ($310 member; $380 nonmember), or electronic download and print combo ($350 member; $435 nonmember) 

TDMM Flash Cards ($275)

Once you go beyond the basic IT communications industry certifications such as the RCDD, you'll find that IP-based communications and even pure telecom platforms define a big landscape of possible technical training and certification.

Absent from our list of the top five this year is the Nokia Network Routing Specialist. We chose instead to focus on the NCTI Master Technician because of its broader appeal, but the Nokia credential is still an excellent choice for those working with the Nokia technologies. In addition to our top five certifications, vendor-neutral credentials that merit attention are the Telecommunications Electronics Technician (TCM) by the Electronics Technicians Association.

The Fiber Optic Association (FOA) has a large certification program with a focus on fiber-optic and premises cabling, aimed at technicians, installers and network designers who handle fiber-optic communications systems.

Industry players such as Cisco, HPE and IBM offer large, complex training and certification programs as well, as do purely telecom-oriented vendors. Your interest in, and exposure to, specific platforms and technology solutions will lead you toward available training and certifications offered by each vendor.

There will be no shortage of options, but because hands-on exposure and access are essential to pursue them, it will probably be more obvious and less daunting that we can only point out the huge landscape here in vague and nonspecific terms.