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 (with 5G now also starting to make its debut.)
The five certifications we cite in this article represent a small sample of the wireless IT certifications available in today's marketplace. This year, we continue to feature two ever-popular Cisco certifications – the CCNA and CCNP Enterprise – 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 for wireless-savvy professionals vary considerably. According to SimplyHired, entry-level wireless networking professionals can expect to make roughly $67,000, although there were highs reported at nearly $154,000. 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 at more than $130,000, with earnings on the high end at almost $181,000.
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 earn. Thus, fewer people possess them as compared to entry- and mid-level wireless certs.
Job board survey results (in alphabetical order, by sponsor)
CCNA: Cisco Certified Network Associate
Cisco offers some of the most widely known and recognizable certifications in the industry. It offers a wireless specialization for each Cisco networking credential at the Associate (CCNA), Professional (CCNP Enterprise) and Expert (CCIE Wireless) levels.
As of February 24, 2020, Cisco has rolled out a new CCNA exam. Currently, there are no prerequisites for the new exam, although ideal candidates should understand IP addressing, network fundamentals, and possess at least one year of direct experience implementing and administering Cisco solutions.
Candidates must also pass a single exam (excluding any exams required for prerequisite certifications) to earn the CCNA credential. The new CCNA exam is a consolidated exam and replaces all current CCNA exams, regardless of concentration area. According to Cisco, the new CCNA exam focuses on a broader range of fundamental skills, including automation and programmability, security fundamentals, IP services, IP connectivity, network access and network fundamentals. The new CCNA credential is valid for three years after which credential holders must recertify by passing an approved exam or earning 30 Continuing Education Credits (CECs).
Professionals who earn the CCNA Wireless prior to February 23, 2020, will receive the new CCNA credential and a training badge.
CCNA Facts and Figures
Cisco Certified Network Associate
Number of Exams
One exam; 200-301 CCNA (120 minutes).
Exam delivered through Pearson VUE.
The CCNA 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. Candidates can prepare for the exam with the Implementing and Administering Cisco Solutions v1.0 course. The course is available online or in virtual or live classrooms. Plan on five days of classroom instruction and three days of self-study. The cost is $800.
CCNP Enterprise: Cisco Certified Network Professional Enterprise
As with the CCNA Wireless certification, Cisco rolled out a new CCNP credential – the CCNP Enterprise – on February 24, 2020. Two exams are required to earn this CCNP Enterprise certification: a core exam (focused on enterprise technologies) and an enterprise concentration exam. There are no prerequisites for the CCNP Enterprise credential, but successful candidates should have at least three to five years of experience implementing enterprise network solutions. The CCNP Enterprise is valid for three years. To recertify, certification holders must either pass a professional concentration exam plus earn 40 CECs, or earn 80 CECs.
If you've had or have been working toward the CCNP Wireless credential, your hard work is not in vain. You'll receive credit toward the new CCNP Enterprise credential for all completed work. Cisco's CCNP Wireless Migration Tool is an easy-to-use tool that shows you exactly how your current work translates to the new program. For example, if you passed the CCNP Wireless Design exam prior to February 24, 2020, you'll receive the Cisco Certified Specialist – Enterprise Wireless Design credential. To earn the CCNP Enterprise certification, you would need to pass the CCNP Enterprise Core exam.
CCNP Facts and Figures
Cisco Certified Network Professional Enterprise (CCNP Enterprise)
Prerequisites & Required Courses
There are no formal prerequisites for the CCNP Enterprise. Candidates should have a three to five years of experience implementing enterprise network solutions.
Number of Exams
The core exam is 350-401 ENCOR (Implementing Cisco Enterprise Network Core Technologies).
In addition to the core exam above, choose one of the following concentration exams:
Exams are 90 minutes in length. Exams listed above are in addition to examinations required for any prerequisites.
Exams delivered through Pearson VUE.
The CCNP Enterprise certification page contains additional information about the exam and study resources.
CompTIA is a well-recognized certification provider of vendor-neutral industry credentials. The CompTIA Network+ credential joins the IT Fundamentals+, A+ and 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 (N10-007) is required to earn the credential. Launched in in March 2018, the exam digs into several domains, including new hardware technologies, cloud computing, technical service models, virtualization and security concepts.
The credential is valid for a period of three years after which candidates must recertify. There are several paths to recertification; candidates can view the current requirements on 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 $189.
Network+ Facts and Figures
Prerequisites & Required Courses
CompTIA A+ (recommended)
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
CompTIA maintains a list of learning opportunities on its Network+ training web page. Here, you'll find links to study guides, classroom training, e-learning opportunities, and with CompTIA's adaptive learning tool – CertMaster. You can also find numerous self-study materials available through Amazon.
CWNA: Certified Wireless Network Administrator
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. These include the Certified Wireless Security Professional (CWSP), Certified Wireless Analysis Professional (CWAP) and the Certified Wireless Design Professional (CWDP).
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 survey; 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 place to start.
CWNA Facts and Figures
Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA)
Recommended: Certified Wireless Specialist (CWS) and Certified Wireless Technician (CWT)
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.
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).
CWSP: Certified Wireless Security Professional
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 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 steppingstone to the more advanced Certified Wireless Network Expert (CWNE) credential. The CWSP credential is valid for three years. To recertify, certification holders must possess a current CWNA and pass the then-current CWSP exam.
CWSP Facts and Figures
Certified Wireless Security Professional (CWSP)
Number of Exams
One exam, CWSP-206 (90 minutes, 60 questions)
Cost per Exam
CWNP offers numerous training opportunities, including exam objectives, books, white papers and more (list and links appear on the certification page). From the CWNP Store, you can purchase a study guide ($74.99), an e-learning bundle ($905), practice exam ($125), self-paced training kit ($395) and more.
Beyond the top 5: more wireless certifications
While not a part of the leaderboard, the Certified Wireless Design Professional (CWDP) and the SANS GAWN certifications (the GIAC Assessing and Auditing Wireless Networks) are worthy credentials to add to your certification portfolio. 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 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).
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). As with the CCNA Wireless and CCNP Wireless, Cisco released a new CCIE credential – CCIE Enterprise Wireless – on February 24, 2020.
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.