The learning lowdown on Windows wireless

With wireless networking gaining a greater foothold in the enterprise, many IT organizations are hampered by a lack of staff knowledge of wireless tools, technologies and techniques. There are ways to bridge the learning gap.

Most organizations have at least some wireless networking somewhere in their infrastructure; and more are planning to increase the use of wireless technologies. That usually spells a shortage of experienced Windows admins with up-to-date knowledge of wireless tools, technologies and techniques.

What's the best way to bridge the learning gap? If you don't already have somebody knowledgeable on staff, a good starting point may be to bring in an outside expert to help refine and elaborate on your wireless deployment strategy. At the very least, you'll want to expose existing staff members to fundamental concepts. Where to look for Windows-centric wireless credentials and certifications is another question.

MCSA/E need not apply

Although Microsoft's MCSA and MCSE credentials both require some knowledge of wireless technology, there is no Microsoft-specific wireless certification. Instead, IT admins in Microsoft-centric shops might benefit by qualifying for the Certified Wireless Networking Professional (CWNP) credential, the industry standard for wireless LAN training and certification.

Specific CWNP certifications include:

  • Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA): This entry-level cert is a pre-requisite for other CWNP certs. It covers basic wireless networking technologies, protocols, signaling, installation, configuration and maintenance.
  • Certified Wireless Security Professional (CWSP): This mid-level certification focuses on understanding how security works on wireless networks, how to mitigate or foil potential threats and vulnerabilities, encryption, documented attacks and exploits.
  • Certified Wireless Analysis Professional (CWAP): This mid- to upper-level credential focuses on using data capture, monitoring, and analysis tools for diagnostics, performance monitoring and optimization, troubleshooting and security. It is a great certification for full-time wireless professionals but overkill for those whose wireless responsibilities are only part of their jobs.
  • Certified Wireless Networking Expert (CWNE): The capstone credential in the CWNP program, this credential ensures mastery of all skills and technologies needed to design, install, manage, configure and troubleshoot wireless network systems. It's another great cert for full-time wireless professionals.

Two vendor-neutral wireless certifications also worth noting are available from the National Association of Radio and Telecommunications Engineers (or NARTE) under the general heading of unlicensed wireless systems installation. In the vendor arena, Cisco Systems Inc. currently offers two wireless networking qualified specialist credentials: a Cisco Wireless LAN Design Specialist and a Cisco Wireless LAN Support Specialist.

Choose training hot spots for cheap and beyond

Nearly all wireless training providers offer basic courses for general skills development outside of a specific credential program. Local community colleges or technical schools like DeVry Institute, ITT and The Chubb Institute are a good source of wireless fundamentals at a reasonable cost.

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Vendor or vendor-partner training programs provide more focused and current content, but these courses are pricey, especially for classroom training, which can run upwards from $300 per day. Vendor e-learning programs -- often offered in parallel with instructor-led training -- can be a good alternative to classroom vendor training. In this category, offerings from Linksys, Netgear and IOGEAR Inc. are particularly useful and informative.

Most vendors also offer free product instructions, installation manuals, FAQs and troubleshooting guides online. The majority don't offer training for low-end, low-cost products. However, for bigger ticket items such as routers with wireless components or high-capacity wireless access points, some kind of training is almost always available.

Traditional training from nationwide or global training firms like Global Knowledge, New Horizons and Learning Tree, or wireless-focused companies like Ascolta and Wray Castle wireless training all offer training curricula. Many offer general, vendor-neutral and focused, vendor-specific classes, both online and in the classroom. Some are authorized vendor training partners; others develop their own independent courses. Training companies that are authorized to teach the CWNP curriculum are also a good bet along with online training companies like Education To Go, WorldWideLearn and SkillSoft.

One final point: When weighing staff development needs against your available training dollars, remember that the IT training market is soft enough to encourage creative deal-making and discounting.


Ed Tittel is a full-time freelance writer, trainer and consultant who specializes in matters related to certification and training, information security, markup languages and networking technologies. He is a regular contributor to numerous TechTarget Web sites, technology editor for ref="www.certmag.com">Certification Magazine and writes an e-mail newsletter for CramSession called Must Know News. He can be reached at etittel@certmag.com.

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