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Best Wireless Networking Certifications

Data networking
Credit: optimarc/Shutterstock

Though networking of all kinds remains a white-hot IT concern and technology area, nothing could be 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 that we cite in this article represent just a small sample of the total number of wireless IT certifications available in today's marketplace. This year, we've chosen to feature two ever-popular Cisco certifications — the CCNA Wireless and CCNP Wireless — along with the CWNA and CWDP credentials from the Certified Wireless Network Professional organization. Rounding out our top five list is the SANS GAWN credential.

Salaries in the industry vary considerably, but entry-level wireless networking professionals should expect to make roughly $58,000 to $62,000. SimplyHired reported average earnings for CWNAs at $56,000 to $70,000 for those holding the GIAC GWAN certification. Of course, these are just average salaries. Indeed, other factors, such as job role and experience, can greatly influence earnings 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 $124,000, with earnings on the high end more than $173,000.

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.







CCNA Wireless






CCNP Wireless
























Cisco offers some of the most widely known and recognizable certs 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 certs) to earn the CCNA Wireless credential. The CCNA Wireless is valid for a period of three years after which candidates must recertify. Recertification also requires passing a single exam. Cisco maintains a list of the current qualifying recertification exams on the CCNA Wireless page.

The CCNA Wireless is a vendor-specific cert, 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 certs 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

$250. Exam delivered through Pearson VUE.



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 $3,300.

The second Cisco wireless credential featured in this article 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 $79,000 but can climb to $116,000. Senior engineers average $99,600 with a high of $138,000. This is a must-have certificate for those seeking to further their Cisco careers.

Certification Name

Cisco Certified Network Professional Wireless (CCNP Wireless)

Prerequisites & Required Courses

Valid CCNA Wireless or any CCIE certification

Number of Exams

Four exams (50 to 60 questions each):

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 60 to 70 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.



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 $3,695 for live, instructor-led courses.

The CWNP's Certified Wireless Design Professional (CWDP) is a professional-level certification targeting wireless professionals who design enterprise-level networks. It's also one of the certifications required to earn the pinnacle of the CWNP certification program, the Certified Wireless Network Expert (CWNE).

To earn the CWDP, candidates must possess a current CWNA credential and pass the CWDP exam. The CWDP exam focuses on five areas: requirements analysis, procedures for site surveys, WLAN deployment, design validation and WLAN design principles. As one might expect, most of the exam (40 percent) focuses on WLAN design principles.

CWDP credential holders must recertify every three years. Providing the credential holder possesses a current CWNA, CWDPs need only take the then-current CWDP exam to renew.

Certification Name

Certified Wireless Design Professional (CWDP)

Prerequisites & Required Courses

Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA) (must be current)

Number of Exams

One exam, CWDP-302 (60 multiple-choice questions, 90 minutes, passing score of 70 percent required; instructor candidates must earn 80 percent)

Cost per Exam

$225. Exam administered by Pearson VUE.



Self-Study Materials

CWNP offers a number of study materials, including exam objectives, mapping to show what's changed from the prior exam, a CWDP eLearning Kit ($595), practice exams ($125) and the CWDP Official Study Guide ($54.49). Formal training is available from CWNP training partners. Candidates can expect to pay $2,395 to participate in a live Wi-Fi Design Training Class.

The Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA) credential from the Certified Wireless Network Professional (CWNP) organization has been around for more than a decade, but it still represents a terrific workaday 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-106, 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.

The CWNA is good for three years, after which candidates must recertify. Recertification is straight-forward: candidates need only pass the current CWNA exam or any CWNP professional exam, including CWAP, CWDP or CWSP. The recertification exam must be taken 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


Number of Exams

One exam, CWNA-106 (60 multiple-choice questions, 90 minutes, passing score of 70 percent required; instructor candidates must earn 80 percent)

Cost per Exam

$175. Exam administered by Pearson VUE.



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 ($45), CWNA eLearning Kit ($595), CWNA Training ($2,495), and CWNA Self-Paced Study Kit ($300).

SANS is well known as a purveyor of security research and training. Its certification arm – GIAC (Global Information Assurance Certification) – administers a bevy of credentials, including the GIAC Assessing and Auditing Wireless Networks (GAWN) credential.

The GIAC GAWN functions as an expert-level certification in the overall GIAC framework. Most GIAC certification candidates take SANS training classes, either at their frequent conferences, onsite by demand for organizations big enough to run entire classes of candidates through training in one go, or online. However, SANS allows individuals to challenge the GAWN exam without taking the associated class. SANS instructors have stellar reputations, so many candidates prefer to take the classes, simply to get exposure to a mentor and guide to the topics and technologies those certifications cover.

In the case of the GAWN certification, the focus is on those who inspect and audit wireless networks, with a particular emphasis on security analysis and examination. Thus, the exam zeroes-in on the various security mechanisms used on wireless networks, tools and techniques to evaluate security posture or attack weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and analytical techniques for wireless networks. Candidates must understand how to use a variety of tools, know how they operate and know what kinds of information they can reveal about the protocols and services they are used to evaluate or attack.

The GAWN certification will be of greatest interest to IT professionals who are responsible for security audits or security maintenance for wireless networks. This involves a mix of individuals who work for audit or penetration testing firms, as well as IT professionals chartered with maintaining or auditing security for companies or organizations in-house.

The GAWN credential is valid for four years after which it must be renewed. GIAC credential holders may retake the exam or earn 36 continuing professional education (CPE) credits to renew a certification (see the GIAC Certification Renewal web page for more details). CPEs can be earned through a variety of methods including work experience, training and teaching or publishing. The current exam is worth 36 CPEs, so candidates electing to retake the exam do not have to earn additional CPE credits.

Certification Name

GIAC Assessing and Auditing Wireless Networks (GAWN)

Prerequisites & Required Courses

Recommended SANS course: SEC617: Wireless Ethical Hacking, Penetration Testing, and Defenses (6 days, $5,910; discounts may be available for early registrations)

Number of Exams

One exam (75 questions, 2 hours, passing score of 71 percent required)

Cost per Exam

Exam is taken in conjunction with SANS training: $689

NetWars Core Continuous Bundle $1,199. Certification maintenance fee (every four years): $399



Self-Study Materials

Not currently available.

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

The CompTIA Network+ certification is another good vendor-neutral starter certification that covers a lot of wireless topics (for example, access points, survey tools, analyzers, frequency fundamentals and security). Other vendor-neutral wireless certifications worthy of mention include the iNARTE Wireless Device Certification Professional (WCDP) and the upper-echelon OSTMM Wireless Security Expert (OWSE) by ISECOM.

A great many industry players offer wireless certifications as well, including Brocade, Alcatel-Lucent (now part of Nokia), Extreme Networks, HPE and others. For those who wish to specialize in vendor platforms (such as Brocade, Alcatel-Lucent, etc.), vendor-sponsored programs will be their ticket to recognition and specific jobs. IT professionals working with Cisco will (of course) want to take a closer look at the crème de la crème 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 will also present themselves, depending on the person seeking other credentials that bear on wireless networking, either broadly or narrowly.

Ed Tittel

Ed is a 30-year-plus veteran of the computing industry, who has worked as a programmer, a technical manager, a classroom instructor, a network consultant and a technical evangelist for companies that include Burroughs, Schlumberger, Novell, IBM/Tivoli and NetQoS. He has written for numerous publications, including Tom's IT Pro, and is the author of more than 140 computing books on information security, web markup languages and development tools, and Windows operating systems.