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5 most valuable wireless network certifications

Wireless networking skills are in high demand. Having a top-notch wireless network certification can help networking newbies and pros stand out among job candidates.

Few technologies continue to flourish with the same vigor as wireless networking.

Since the introduction of Wi-Fi (802.11) in 1999, wireless technologies have taken the world by storm. We've seen wireless networking standards go through six major generations, with Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) introduced in February 2021. Now, Wi-Fi is nearly ubiquitous around the world, especially in developed countries.

In years to come, planned updates to the Wi-Fi standard are expected to compete head to head with wired last-mile networking technologies. From its initial capabilities at 1 Mbps to 2 Mbps, Wi-Fi is now pushing the 1 Gbps boundary with the latest standard.

All this change and evolution explain why wireless networking skills and knowledge are prized in the workplace and why wireless networking certifications are in high demand.

The wireless networking certification landscape

While examining the many IT certifications that include wireless networking coverage, we found nearly 20 such offerings that included at least some Wi-Fi content. Thus, the five certifications put forward in this article represent only the most popular elements in that list.

For this survey, we chose the following certifications:

  • two Cisco credentials -- Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) and Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) Enterprise Wireless;
  • the latest iteration of CompTIA Network+; and
  • two elements from the Certified Wireless Network Professional (CWNP) program, specifically Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA) and Certified Wireless Technician (CWT).

According to SimplyHired, an entry-level worker in wireless networking can expect to make between $40,000 and $70,000 per year, depending on location. As IT professionals climb the skills and experience ladder, their compensation grows as well. Midlevel wireless networking professionals' salaries range from $80,000 to $110,000. The most senior workers tend to earn $100,000 and up.

Clearly, if workers have extensive knowledge and skill in wireless technologies, they can expect to make more money. But it's also important to understand that local job markets and pay scale exert tremendous influence on paychecks, benefits and bonuses. At the highest levels, we found salaries topping out in the $180,000 to $200,000 range, almost exclusively in major metro areas, such as Los Angeles, New York City, Silicon Valley, Austin and so forth.

Conducting the survey

With an initial list of just under 20 candidate certifications, we visited four popular job posting sites to select our final choices, based on hits appearing in current job postings. The data was collected in late October 2022. Values presented in the following table are best understood as representative ballpark figures rather than cast-iron counts of job openings.

The wireless networking job market has some interesting wrinkles around our final certification choices, as we explain below. The table shows the results of our job board surveys with search strings used in quotes to the left and results for the job posting sites at the right.

Top 5 wireless networking certifications with job count snapshots

This table shows various wireless network certs and the job posting numbers associated with them. This online search was conducted in October 2022.
Online search (certification) SimplyHired Indeed LinkedIn LinkUp

"wireless networking"

7,057

11,803

11,668

11,687

"CCNA (Cisco)"

7,758

12,121

15,282

4,826

"CCNP Enterprise Wireless (Cisco)"

672

948

69

57

"Network+ (CompTIA)"

4,443

5,125

4,944

3,197

"CWNA (CWNP)"

132

172

374

73

"CWT (CWNP)"

406

123

193

118


This table leads off with a general search on the term wireless networking in job postings. This helps to set the stage for such jobs that also mention certifications, including the other items in the table. The four job posting sites are well known and support U.S.-wide job searches. The four sites are SimplyHired, Indeed, LinkedIn and LinkUp. In the sections that follow, we describe and delve into our selected wireless networking certifications.

1. Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)

The Cisco Certified Network Associate certification is an interesting case. Cisco once offered a specialized wireless version of CCNA, but now, it no longer does. Nevertheless, CCNA still includes substantial wireless coverage -- somewhere between 25% and 35% -- in its curriculum and exam. This explains why the CCNA job count numbers are higher than the other more narrowly focused wireless certs in the table above. In other words, CCNA jobs can involve nonwireless work, too. In fact, changing the search to CCNA plus wireless networking drops the job count numbers by about 50%.

The current CCNA curriculum is divided into six major topic areas: network fundamentals, network access, IP connectivity, IP services, security fundamentals, and automation and programmability. The CCNA is regarded as one of the best and most demanding entry-level networking fundamentals certifications. It's a great starting point for networking professionals working in all areas of networking, including wireless.

CCNA details

Exam: 200-301 CCNA (120 minutes, $400)
Provider: Pearson VUE
Renewal cycle: 3 years
Materials: Cisco's CCNA page includes links to self-study courses and texts, learning network videos, practice test banks, online study groups and so forth. The company's official training course, "Implementing and Administering Cisco Solutions," is one of many options for exam training and preparation available to candidates. The cost is $800 and up; local currency variations may apply.

2. Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) Enterprise Wireless

While CCNA is an entry-level, all-around networking fundamentals certification, the CCNP Enterprise Wireless track is midlevel and more narrowly focused on enterprise wireless networking platforms, tools and technologies. The exam includes more than 50% of wireless networking coverage and content.

As with CCNA Wireless, the official CCNP Wireless program was retired in 2020. Interestingly, the job counts for CCNP Wireless averaged over 1,000 higher at each job site than the new certification's name. We think this indicates that markets take a while to catch up with certification programs and that midlevel wireless certifications remain valuable, whether or not they're in sync with Cisco's current slate.

Cisco uses the same exam, 350-401 Implementing and Operating Enterprise Network Core Technologies, for multiple credentials: CCNP Enterprise, Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert Enterprise Infrastructure, CCIE Enterprise Wireless and Cisco Certified Specialist - Enterprise Core. It covers implementing core enterprise networking technologies in dual-stack (IPv4 and IPv6) situations, virtualization, infrastructures, network assurance, security and automation. A single course, "Implementing and Operating Cisco Enterprise Network Core Technologies," covers the lot as well.

One of two additional wireless certifications exams is also required to earn the CCNP Enterprise Wireless credential: 300-425 Designing Cisco Enterprise Wireless Networks or 300-430 Implementing Cisco Enterprise Wireless Networks. Courses for each are also available. These exams are where the wireless networking focus comes to the fore.

CCNP Enterprise Wireless details

Exams:

  • 350-401 Enterprise Network Core Technologies (120 minutes; $400)
  • 300-425 Designing Cisco Enterprise Wireless Networks (120 minutes; $400)
  • 300-430 Implementing Cisco Enterprise Wireless Networks (120 minutes; $400)

Provider: Pearson VUE
Renewal cycle: 3 years
Materials: As with CCNA, Cisco's CCNP Enterprise webpage includes links to self-study courses and texts, learning network videos, practice test banks, online study groups and so forth. The company's various official training courses are also linked there. The official curriculum is just one of many options for exam training and preparation available to candidates. The cost is $1,000 and up. Instructor-led training is usually more costly than online alternatives. Local currency variations may apply.

Beyond CCNP Enterprise Wireless, Cisco also offers Specialist and CCIE wireless credentials. CCIE is something of a pinnacle certification for many IT professionals. CCIE has been evergreen in the category of top technical certifications since its introduction in 1993 and virtually guarantees a six-figure income to its holders.

3. CompTIA Network+

The Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA) is a consortium of research and academic institutions, organizations and other parties interested in developing and advancing computing and personnel development. CompTIA sponsors many IT certifications, including the entry-level Network+ credential. Along with CompTIA A+, a general computing technology certification, and Security+, a cybersecurity fundamentals certification, Network+ fills out something of a triumvirate of popular entry-level credentials.

Since its introduction in 1999 -- the year the first Wi-Fi specifications, 802.11a and 802.11b, were commercialized -- Network+ has grown to incorporate more wireless networking coverage. Today, its content includes at least 20% wireless-specific coverage, and half of the overall material has at least some bearing on wireless networks.

Network+ is regarded as a strong general entry-level networking certification. It's somewhat less taxing than CCNA and less focused on Cisco-specific technology. Exam objectives include five domains: networking fundamentals, network implementations, network operations, network security and network troubleshooting. All these domains have wireless-related content.

The old Network+ exam, N10-007, is being retired by the end of 2022. A new Network+ exam, N10-008, is also available and good through the end of 2025. Over the years, the Network+ exam has increased its focus on topics that include wireless networking, cloud computing, network operations and virtualization.

Network+ details

Exams:

  • N10-007 Network+ (90 minutes, $358)
  • N10-008 Network+ (90 minutes, $358)

Provider: Pearson VUE
Renewal cycle: 3 years
Materials: The CompTIA Network+ Exam preparation page has several helpful resources, including e-learning, virtual labs, study guides, online and instructor-led training, and more. There are countless self-study options. Amazon is a good source for study guides, practice tests and other materials.

4. Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA)

The Certified Wireless Network Administrator certification is part of the multicredential CWNP program, which includes fundamentals, entry-level, midlevel, expert and specialist certifications. It's basically a primary source for wireless networking credentials across the entire career spectrum.

CWNP was founded in 1999, coincident with the commercial release of its primary focus: Wi-Fi networking technologies. CWNA is the program's anchor certification and aims to empower network administrators to properly design, implement, maintain and secure Wi-Fi networks. Additional credentials in the program include wireless security, protocol analysis and design.

The CWNA certification requires candidates to pass the current exam, CWNA-108, which expires at the end of 2023. A newer exam, CWNA-109, will be available in September 2023. Candidates should plan for and take the correct exam based on their target exam date. For the time being, CWNA-108 is the only option. This exam is divided into nine domains, including the following: radio frequency (RF) technologies; antenna concepts; wireless LAN hardware and software; network design, installation and management; wireless standards and organizations; 802.11 network architecture; WLAN security; troubleshooting; and how to perform site surveys.

Like CCNP Enterprise Wireless, CWNA is aimed at networking professionals who work with wireless networks daily. And, while the program doesn't garner the same attention as Cisco credentials, it's regarded as a solid source of general, vendor-neutral wireless networking skills and knowledge. Thus, it's a great alternative for those who may not work in Cisco-based networking environments.

CWNA details

Exam: CWNA-108 (90 minutes, $250)
Provider: Pearson VUE
Renewal cycle: 3 years
Materials: An official study guide is available through Amazon in paper and e-book format; there are also numerous third-party titles. Online training likewise comes in official and unofficial forms at a range of prices, along with practice tests and more. The CWNA page includes links for related news, classes and events. Candidates can find ample ways to self-study or take courses to prepare for the CWNA exam.

5. Certified Wireless Technician (CWT)

This is the CWNP's entry-level certification, specifically aimed at technical professionals charged with installing, configuring and troubleshooting basic wireless networking equipment and assisting users with wireless networking issues. Topics covered include setting up wireless LAN clients -- such as PCs, cellphones and tablets -- configuring service set identifiers and security settings, and making wireless client connections work.

Although entry-level in scope and coverage, CWT is a hands-on, operational certification, not just a review of networking fundamentals. It provides the basics to those who want to work daily with wireless networks.

The CWT-101 exam is required to earn this credential. It covers four information domains: understanding basic RF hardware and functions, identifying 802.11 features and functions, identifying WLAN hardware and software, and understanding organizational goals.

CWT details

Exam: CWT-101 (90 minutes, $150)
Provider: CWNP (online-only exam)
Renewal cycle: 3 years
Materials: Preparation options are provided on the CWT page. Although the link points to the old version of the exam, the page is indeed up to date. Those options include a live training class, a self-paced training kit, study and reference guide, a practice test and various e-learning options. Third-party options are also available online.

Go wireless, go certify

There's no doubt wireless networking technologies are an important part of modern IT infrastructures. Aspiring IT professionals must know at least something about this technology to get their jobs done. Those who are willing to roll up their sleeves and pursue this area of IT systematically will find job opportunities and options coming their way.

Next Steps

Cisco CCNA practice test: Try these 20 exam questions

This was last published in December 2022

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