Getting Started in Wi-Fi

Learning
A lot of people think Wi-Fi is easy. You plug in a router with Wi-Fi built-in at home, plug it in, and it just works. Most of the time. Why does it have to be so hard in the enterprise? Like many things IT, it’s really about scale and understanding the fundamentals. Wi-Fi is very forgiving and often works reasonably well when deployed poorly, but once usage ramps up the problems start. Perhaps a new device comes out and things suddenly don’t work well for that device. So, to help people start to learn to properly deploy Wi-Fi and understand the fundamentals, I’m going to recommend some resources to help you get going!

Certifications

Since I teach Ekahau ECSE courses, I have to start by suggesting that path. We teach three different Wi-Fi courses:

  • ECSE Design, which is focused on how to design good Wi-Fi using Ekahau AI Pro.
  • ECSE Troubleshooting, which is focused on understanding how Wi-Fi works and using Ekahau tools and Wireshark to figure out what’s going on. This is a brand new version of the troubleshooting course.
  • ECSE Advanced, which is an advanced course on using Ekahau tools. This has ECSE Design certification as a prerequisite, so it’s probably not applicable if you are just getting started.

Both the troubleshooting and design courses are great ways to learn how Wi-Fi works and while they are focussed on Ekahau tools, the knowledge of how Wi-Fi works is valuable and can still be helpful even if you aren’t an active user of Ekahau products.

There’s always hardware vendor training, but I would recommend looking into the Certified Wireless Network Administrator (CWNA) certification from CWNP as your first choice. The CWNP certifications are vendor-neutral and will not necessarily teach you to configure or design a Cisco or Aruba WLAN, per se. They will, however, teach you how Wi-Fi works. If you go down the CWNA path you will understand the 802.11 protocol and what most of the myriad of dials, switches, and knobs available for configuring your wireless gear actually do. You’ll understand how clients and APs (Access Points) interact with each other and you will be able to make much better decisions on how to deploy wireless networks. If you pursue the CWNA certification before you pursue hardware vendor certifications, you’ll find them a lot easier because you will understand the RF and Wi-Fi fundamentals already.

Juniper Mist has a lot of great free content that anyone can learn from just by signing up for a free account. Go to the Mist management portal, sign up for a free account, then click on the courses button after you login. Lots of great content there. If you are an actual Mist AI user, there’s the great Juniper Mist AI Networks course which spends a good amount of time on understanding Wi-Fi before getting into the details of managing a Mist network. Full disclosure: I occasionally teach that one, too.

For Aruba users the place to start would be the Aruba Certified Mobility Associate (ACMA). This teaches some RF basics, but is mostly how to configure a small Aruba WLAN. Unless you need to learn Aruba specifically right away, I think doing the CWNA first would be a better path.

For Cisco, there isn’t really an entry-level wireless certification. The CCNA touches on it, but things don’t focus on Wi-Fi until you get to the professional level. There are two CCNP concentration courses (and associated exams), Designing Cisco Enterprise Wireless Networks and Implementing Cisco Enterprise Wireless Networks. The names are pretty self-explanatory and are a good option if you are a Cisco user.

Podcasts

If you are a fan of podcasts, you can learn a lot from these podcasts:

  • Wireless LAN Professionals – A long-running podcast that is run by Keith Parsons, one of the most recognizable names in Wi-Fi.
  • Clear to Send – A weekly podcast that is hosted by a pair of Cisco Champions and includes a nice mix of beginning and advanced topics.
  • Wi-Fi for Beginners – A 21-episode series that is just what it sounds like, Wi-Fi for beginners!

Videos

I hope you like watching videos because there is a lot of video content available!

  • Cisco Live On-Demand Library – The Cisco Live site has a lot of videos. A lot. If you expand the Technology menu on the left, choose Wireless and it’ll limit the videos to those most applicable to wireless. The sessions you are mostly looking for will start with BRKEWN. Sessions regarding ISE will be listed under the BRKSEC category.
  • WLAN Professionals Youtube Channel – Wireless LAN professionals host a couple of WLAN focussed conferences every year and all the talks are recorded and posted for free viewing. Tends towards more advanced content, but this resource amounts to an epic knowledge dump from professionals across the WLAN industry. Highly recommended.

Conferences

  • WLPC – The Wireless LAN Professionals Conference is the source for the Youtube channel I mentioned earlier. While all the videos are posted, it’s nothing compared to being there. Before the conference, there are 3-day classes available and during the conference, there is a choice of Deep Dives where you’ll have the chance to spend several hours diving into one of the available topics. Really, really good.
  • Aruba Atmosphere – I haven’t been able to attend this, yet. However, those who I know that have attended think highly of this conference and the content in it. The focus is on Aruba gear, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t straight-up Wi-Fi knowledge to be gained.
  • Cisco Live – If you use Cisco, this is the place to get your questions answered and learn all about the latest and greatest stuff. Wireless is a relatively small part of the content, but it is there and growing every year. There’s a TON of other Cisco content covering every area of technology there, as well.

The IEEE Standard

The last resource I’ll mention for those who really want to dive deep or have a hard time sleeping at night is the 802.11 Standard that defines the protocols for Wi-Fi. Updates to the standard are available for free after they have been released for 6 months via the IEEE Get program. Just click on the “Access via the IEEE Get program” link to download over 3500 pages of this standard.

That’s a lot of resources to help you get going! If you have others to recommend, please reply to this post so others can see your favorite resources. In the meantime, have fun diving into Wi-Fi. As you may be able to tell, it’s one of my favorite things!

FIN