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Cutting the cord

WLAN certification is a grueling, and possibly lucrative, process.

Wireless technology is the wave of the future–or hadn’t you heard? Maybe the problem is that you’ve heard it too much.

Sometimes an abundance of attention can be mistaken for hype, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with wireless. Gallons of research and development funding are going to this field, and a GartnerGroup study projects that there will be 800 million worldwide wireless data users (within a $5 billion wireless-networking industry) by 2004. If that figure even comes close to reality, there should be a huge demand for technicians in this area.

Fortunately, the training and certification sequence in the area of wireless local-area networks (WLANs) is pretty straightforward. There are four main certifications in the field that lead to a Certified Wireless Network Professional (CWNP) certification, and all are vendor-neutral.

(Note: Some debate exists over whether certifications from Cisco are more in-depth than their generic counterparts. One school of thought holds that just having the name Cisco on your certification will mean an automatic increase in salary. That’s debatable, but there’s no denying that Cisco certs have a cachet that others don’t, especially in this area, and considering that Cisco is the industry’s leading WLAN vendor.)

Keep in mind that the bar is set fairly high even before you get your first WLAN certification. The minimum certifications are aimed at systems and network administrators; systems and network engineers; systems and network analysts; technical support and implementation engineers; technical consultants; or network architects. If you can’t call yourself by one of those handles, you have some work to do before you even think about becoming WLAN-certified.

Some training providers won’t even consider a prospective student who doesn’t have certification in either Network+, CCNA, MCP, or CAN–or at the very least, a working knowledge of hubs, bridges, and routers, and an understanding of networking fundamentals, networking protocols, or internetworking with TCP/IP.

But presuming you’re at that level already, let’s discuss each WLAN cert in turn.

CWNA

The Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA) credential is the first step toward a CWNE certification, the top of the heap in current WLAN certs. The CWNA and subsequent certs are for network engineers and administrators who want to demonstrate that they have the skills necessary to administer, install, configure, and troubleshoot wireless network systems.

Once certified as a CWNA, you should be able to understand and apply basic concepts of radio frequency (RF) technology, including:

— RF planning and spread-spectrum technologies;

— how wireless LANs operate;

— the rules governing wireless LANs in order to comply with local radio regulations regarding setup and maintenance of WLANs;

— installation, configuration, and support of wireless NICs, access points, bridges, gateways, and antennas;

— analysis and troubleshooting of WLAN problems, including coverage, multipath, hidden nodes and interference;

— basic site surveys for the installation of WLANs;

— understanding of the insecurities in IEEE 802.11 WLANs;

— identifying the attacks that can occur from network hackers;

— securing the transmission of data over a wireless LAN using advanced tunnelling and encryption techniques;

— and conducting essential security surveys to assess the presence and weaknesses of WLANs.

CWSP

Security is huge; wireless is getting there. Why not go where the two disciplines converge? The Certified Wireless Security Professional (CWSP) builds on the foundation of wireless network knowledge attained through CWNA certification, focusing on security threats and other weaknesses inherent in wireless networks.

The insecurity of WLANs have been noted frequently, and wireless hacking with such tools as NetStumbler and WEPCrack are becoming a fly in the wireless ointment. CWSPs are expected to swoop in to the rescue when WLAN security becomes an issue.

CWSP certification is best suited for systems and network engineers, IT security professionals, technical consultants, and IT systems auditors. Also, it requires a CWNA cert first. A CWSP will help you identify the attacks that can occur from network hackers; secure the transmission of data over a wireless LAN using advanced tunnelling and encryption techniques; and conduct essential security surveys to assess the presence and weaknesses of WLANs.

The CWSP exam covers hardware, software, protocols, procedures, and design techniques used in reducing WLAN security risks. Coursework typically will delve into the whys and wherefores of WLAN intrusion, developing and implementing a security policy, and seeing to WLAN security solutions.

You can expect to pay anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 for the training necessary for the CWNA or the CWSP, plus another $150 or so for each exam. Most programs in both cert areas are about 200 hours in duration.

CWNI

The next step up, Certified Wireless Network Integrator (CWNI), is an advanced qualification that follows the CWNA. Administrators and engineers who achieve Certified Wireless Network Integrator status demonstrate that they have the advanced skills necessary to install, configure, administrate, and troubleshoot wireless network systems.

Some of the skills that will be tested to advanced levels beyond the CWNA exam are switching, routing, wireless LAN and network design, packet analysis (sniffing), and wireless LAN deployment. One of the main focuses of CWNI is for the test candidate to be skilled in wired/wireless network integration. A solid understanding of wireless and wired networks is essential to achieve CWNI status.

Coursework in preparation for the CWNI typically will involve such topics as:

— modulation, coding, and calculations; quality of service and user experience;

— advanced site surveying and radio-frequency (RF) instrumentation;

— vertical market analysis (hospitals, warehouses, hotspots, and so on);

— enterprise wireless design, WISP, and WMAN design;

— and enterprise management.

CWNI certification is best suited for systems and network administrators, systems and network experts, systems and network analysts, technical support and implementation engineers, technical consultants, network architects.

CWNE

The Certified Wireless Network Expert (CWNE) credential is the final step in the CWNP program. Successfully completing the CWNE examination and its three predecessors gives you CWNP status, and shows prospective employers that you have the most advanced skills available in the WLAN market. That means being able to administer, install, configure, troubleshoot, and design wireless network systems. Routing, switching, packet analysis, and advanced design are other areas of expertise for a CWNE. An in-depth understanding of both wireless and wired network technology is essential to successfully pass the CWNE exam.

The CWNE certification is most appropriate for senior-level systems and network administrators; systems and network experts; systems and network analysts; technical support and implementation engineers; technical consultants; and network architects.

The best preparation for the CWNE exam is a couple years’ worth of experience designing, installing, and configuring wireless LAN equipment from many different manufacturers.

Coursework in preparation for a CWNE cert should typically cover such areas as:

— WLAN analysis and troubleshooting tools; wireless frame analysis;

— different versions of the 802.1x/EAP process; finding rogue access points in multiple frequency bands;

— finding and correcting throughput bottlenecks and faulty connections;

— finding and correcting security problems on the wireless LAN with a packet analyzer;

— and finding RF jamming and data flooding attacks.

A final note: Be aware that courseware and certification for the CWNI and CWNE are still under development, and might not be available until later this year or possibly even 2004. Until then, if you haven’t started the trek toward CWNP status, the two preliminary certifications await you.

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