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Best Wireless Networking Certifications

Best wireless networking certs
Credit: Arjuna Kodisinghe/Shutterstock

Though networking of all kinds remains a white-hot IT concern and technology area, nothing is hotter than wireless technologies for everything from local area networking with 802.11ad to the widespread proliferation and adoption of fourth-generation (4G) wireless wide area networking technologies, such as LTE.

The five certifications we cite in this article represent just a small sample of the wireless IT certifications available in today's marketplace. This year, we feature two ever-popular Cisco certifications – the CCNA Wireless and CCNP Wireless – along with the CWNA and CWSP credentials from the Certified Wireless Network Professional organization. Rounding out our top five list is the CompTIA Network+ credential.

Salaries in the industry for wireless-savvy professionals vary considerably. According to SimplyHired, entry-level wireless networking professionals should expect to make roughly $62,000, although there were highs reported at nearly $127,000. Of course, these are just average salaries. Indeed, other factors, such as job role and experience, greatly influence earning potential. When looking at salaries by job role rather than individual certification, you'll find average salaries are much higher. For example, SimplyHired reports average earnings for network architects (a common role performed by CCNP Wireless credential holders) at $133,000, with earnings on the high end at almost $184,000.

In preparation for this article, we conducted a random survey of various IT job boards to see what certifications are being requested by prospective employers. In reviewing the results, it's important to remember that factors, such as geography, the current climate of the employment market, and the complexity of the cert, influence outcomes.

You can expect to see lower numbers on more senior certifications, because, quite frankly, they're more difficult to obtain and fewer people possess them as compared to entry- and mid-level wireless credentials.

Certification

SimplyHired

Indeed

LinkedIn

LinkUp

Total

CCNA Wireless (Cisco)

1,491

1,824

474

568

4,357

CCNP Wireless (Cisco)

1,031

1,281

1,655

498

4,465

Network+ (CompTIA)

537

622

642

67

1,868

CWNA (CWNP)

112

134

154

74

474

CWSP (CWNP)

34

155

52

29

270

Cisco offers some of the most widely known and recognizable certifications in the industry. Currently, they offer a wireless specialization for each Cisco networking credential at the Associate (CCNA Wireless), Professional (CCNP Wireless) and Expert (CCIE Wireless) levels.

Before attempting the CCNA Wireless exam, candidates must first earn either the Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT), CCNA Routing and Switching, or any CCIE certification to demonstrate their skills and knowledge in working with various Cisco wireless platforms and technologies at the corresponding levels of expertise involved.

Candidates must also pass a single exam (excluding any exams required for prerequisite certifications) to earn the CCNA Wireless credential. The CCNA Wireless is valid for three years after which candidates must recertify. Recertification requires passing a single exam. Cisco maintains a list of the current qualifying recertification exams on its CCNA Wireless page.

The CCNA Wireless is a vendor-specific certification, so those who don't work with (and don't have regular everyday access to) Cisco wireless platforms and technologies will have a difficult time learning and mastering the concepts and systems Cisco credentials cover. However, for IT professionals working with Cisco wireless technologies, this foundation-level certificate is a stepping stone to higher-level wireless certifications, such as the CCNP Wireless and CCIE Wireless.

Certification Name

Cisco Certified Network Associate Wireless (CCNA Wireless)

Prerequisites & Required Courses

Valid Cisco CCENT, CCNA Routing and Switching, or CCIE certification

Number of Exams

One exam; 200-355 WIFUND (Implementing Cisco Wireless Network Fundamentals) (60 to 70 questions, 90 minutes)
This exam is in addition to examinations required for any prerequisites.

Cost per Exam

$300. Exam delivered through Pearson VUE.

URL

http://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/training-events/training-certifications/certifications/associate/ccna-wireless.html

Self-Study Materials

The CCNA Wireless certification web page listed above provides a great list of self-study materials, learning network resources, training videos, practice questions, course syllabus and study groups, as well as learning partner content.
Cisco recommends that candidates take the Implementing Cisco Wireless Network Fundamentals (WIFUND) course. The course lasts for five days and costs $3,395.

The second Cisco wireless credential is the Cisco Certified Wireless Professional (CCNP Wireless), a step above the CCNA Wireless.

The CCNP Wireless is designed for dedicated Cisco professionals. To be eligible, candidates must possess either a valid CCNA Wireless or any CCIE certification. Candidates must pass four CCNP Wireless exams that focus on designing, deploying, troubleshooting and securing Cisco wireless enterprise networks.

While difficult to achieve, for those who work with Cisco wireless technologies, the CCNP Wireless can be quite valuable. Per Glassdoor, the average salary for a wireless network engineer is about $77,4840 but can climb to $113,000. Senior engineers average $98,127 with a high of $142,000. This is a must-have certificate for those seeking to further their Cisco careers in the wireless realm.

Certification Name

Cisco Certified Network Professional Wireless (CCNP Wireless)

Prerequisites & Required Courses

Valid CCNA Wireless or any CCIE certification

Number of Exams

Four exams:
300-360 WIDESIGN (Designing Cisco Wireless Enterprise Networks)
300-365 WIDEPLOY (Deploying Cisco Wireless Voice Networks)
300-370 WITSHOOT (Troubleshooting Cisco Wireless Enterprise Networks)
300-375 WISECURE (Securing Cisco Wireless Enterprise Networks)

Exams are 55 to 65 questions each and 90 minutes in length. Exams listed above are in addition to examinations required for any prerequisites.

Cost per Exam

$300 each (total $1,200 for four exams). Exams delivered through Pearson VUE.

URL

http://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/training-events/training-certifications/certifications/professional/ccnp-wireless.html

Self-Study Materials

The CCNP Wireless certification web page listed above provides a wonderful list of self-study materials, learning network resources, training videos, practice questions, course syllabus and study groups as well as learning partner content.
All exams have associated recommended training classes, which usually range from three to five days, depending on the training provider. Classes start at $750 for e-learning courses and go up to $4,195 for live, instructor-led courses.

CompTIA is a well-recognized certification provider of vendor-neutral industry credentials. The CompTIA Network+ credential joins the IT Fundamentals, A+, Security + credentials as part of CompTIA's four "core" credentials. The Network+ certification serves as a prerequisite to several other CompTIA credentials including Security+, Cybersecurity Analyst+ (CySA+) (formerly CSA+), Linux+ and PenTest+.

An intermediate-level credential, the Network+ certification targets professionals in junior-level roles, including network administrators, system or field engineers, help desk and support technicians, and network analysts. Network+ validates a candidate's skill and technical expertise relating to network configuration, design and implementation, virtualization support, troubleshooting, security standards, network devices configuration and more.

A single exam is required to earn the credential. CompTIA launched a new Network+ exam (N10-007) in March 2018. The new exam digs deeper into several domains including new hardware technologies, cloud computing, technical service models, virtualization and security concepts. The English version of the old exam will be available until August 31, 2018, with other language exams retiring on January 31, 2019.

The credential is valid for a period of three years after which candidates must recertify. There are several paths to recertification can candidates can view the then current requirements from CompTIA's renewal web page. Professionals who are on a timeline to recertify quickly should explore a CertMaster CE course that allows candidates with valid credentials to recertify in as little as four to six hours for a nominal fee of $175.

Certification Name

CompTIA Network+

Prerequisites & Required Courses

Nine to twelve months of networking experience recommended

Number of Exams

One exam, CompTIA Network+ (N10-007) (90 minutes in length and up to 90 questions)

Cost per Exam

$302

URL

https://certification.comptia.org/certifications/network

Self-Study Materials

CompTIA maintains a list of learning opportunities on its Network+ training web page. Here, you'll find links to study guides, classroom training, eLearning opportunities, and with CompTIA's adaptive learning tool – CertMaster. You can also find numerous self-study materials available through Amazon.

The Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA) credential from the Certified Wireless Network Professional (CWNP) organization has been around for more than a decade but still represents a terrific general-purpose IT certification for those who install, configure and maintain wireless networks in the workplace.

CWNP describes this credential as a foundational level career certification for networkers, and it acts as a gateway to more senior credentials, including the Certified Wireless Security Professional (CWSP), Certified Wireless Analysis Professional (CWAP), and the Certified Wireless Design Professional (CWDP) credentials.

The current exam for the CWNA is CWNA-107, which is available at Pearson VUE testing centers. Topics covered include basic RF technologies, regulations and standards, protocols and devices, network implementation, network security, RF site surveying, antenna concepts, 802.11 network architecture, wireless LAN hardware and software, along with network design, installation and management, troubleshooting and site surveys.

The CWNA is good for three years, after which candidates must recertify. Recertification is straightforward: Candidates need only pass the current CWNA exam or any CWNP professional exam, including CWAP, CWDP or CWSP. To stay current, a recertification exam must be passed before your existing CWNA certification expires.

The CWNA is probably the most worthwhile and useful wireless networking credential for administrators, thanks to its vendor-agnostic approach to wireless technologies. Unless you're firmly ensconced in some vendor's wireless tool and technologies – most notably, Cisco's, from the perspective of this article – the CWNA is the credential to start with.

Certification Name

Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA)

Prerequisites/Required Courses

None

Number of Exams

One exam, CWNA-107 (60 multiple-choice questions, 90 minutes, passing score of 70 percent required; instructor candidates must earn 80 percent)

Cost per Exam

$200. Exam administered by Pearson VUE.

URL

www.cwnp.com/certifications/cwna

Self-Study Materials

CWNP offers numerous training opportunities, including exam objectives, books, white papers and more (list and links appear on the certification page), the official study guide ($74.99), CWNA Training ($2,495), and the CWNA  Self-Paced Training Kit ($325).

Another part of CWNP's certification program, the Certified Wireless Security Professional (CWSP) targets security professionals working with wireless LAN networks. The CWSP validates a candidate's ability to perform assess network vulnerability, employ best practices, make recommendations to prevent security breaches and attacks, conduct WLAN security audits, monitor security compliance, design and architect network security, and implement Wireless Intrusion Prevention Systems (WISPS).

To earn the CWSP, candidates must first obtain the CWNA certification and then pass the CWSP exam. While not required, training is recommended. The CWSP serves as a stepping stone to the more advanced Certified Wireless Network Expert (CWNE) credential. The CWSP credential is valid for three years after which candidates must recertify by passing its then-current exam.

Certification Name

Certified Wireless Security Professional (CWSP)

Prerequisites/Required Courses

Valid CWNA

Number of Exams

One exam, CWSP-205 (90 minutes, 60 questions)

Cost per Exam

$250

URL

https://www.cwnp.com/certifications/cwsp

Self-Study Materials

CWNP offers numerous training opportunities, including exam objectives, books, white papers and more (list and links appear on the certification page), CWSP eLearning Bundle ($620), CWSP Training and CWSP Self-Paced Training Kit ($375).

Last year, our lineup included the Certified Wireless Design Professional (CWDP) and the SANS GAWN certifications (the GIAC Assessing and Auditing Wireless Networks). Their job board numbers didn't quite earn them a slot in the top five this year, as the CWSP edged out the CWDP and CompTIA Network+ replaced GAWN. Despite their removal from the top five list, they are still great credentials and worthy of honorable mention.

In addition to CWNP's Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA) and Certified Wireless Security Professional (CWSP), we'd be remiss if we didn't mention CWNP's other wireless certifications: the Certified Wireless Technology Specialist (CWTS), Certified Wireless Design Professional (CWDP), Certified Wireless Analysis Professional (CWAP) and Certified Wireless Network Expert (CWNE). Together, these certifications provide CWNP with a powerful wireless certification portfolio.

Other vendor-neutral wireless certifications worthy of mention include the iNARTE Wireless Device Certification Professional (WCDP) and the upper-echelon OSSTMM Wireless Security Expert (OWSE) from ISECOM.

Several industry players also offer wireless certifications, including Alcatel-Lucent (now part of Nokia), Extreme Networks, HPE and others. For those wishing to specialize in vendor platforms (such as Alcatel-Lucent, Extreme Networks, etc.), vendor-sponsored programs are the ticket to recognition and specific jobs. IT professionals working with Cisco will (of course) want to take a closer look at the creme de la creme of the Cisco certification tier, the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert Wireless (CCIE Wireless).

For those interested in specific areas of wireless technology – particularly security – numerous other options also present themselves, depending on the person seeking other credentials that bear on wireless networking, either broadly or narrowly.