WLAN Professionals need to be a Three-Legged Stool

OK, that just sounds a bit weird to me… But I’m trying to find a catchy title for the blog that brings up three supports for all Wireless LAN Professionals.

In my career focusing on Wireless LAN’s for the last decade, I’ve found three fundamental differences between folks working in this industry.

Experience, Understanding of 802.11, and a background in non-Wi-Fi networking.

Let’s look at each of these.

First – I’ve met lots of folks who have an incredible amount of experience doing Wireless LANs… but were missing the other two facets. These are folks who perhaps started in this industry as a WISP or a builder of Hot Spots. They have installed hundreds of Access Points. Their first reaction when there might be a problem is to add more power, add more access points, or upgrade the CPE (Customer Premise Equipment). For these type, it’s all about the doing – they seem to move fast, and always have tools ready to go in the back of their truck.

This first type reminds me of the medical community of 100 years ago. The doctors at the time learned through experience what techniques worked. And for the folks at the time, they were the only alternative.

The second group are those who really understand 802.11. The experienced folks might look upon these as merely academics. These folks might have passed their CWTS, CWNA, CWSP, etc. and really have an understanding of how the 802.11 protocol works. They might also have learned about Spectrum Analysis, and can describe exactly how the SpecAn chipset works. In the ‘old days’ we might have called these folks “Paper-CWNAs” – because they had the certificate, and knowledge, but not an understanding of how things really work in the real world.

To stick with the medical analogy – these are MRI Techs – they can use tests and measurements to know EXACTLY what is going on inside the body – but don’t really know how to solve it.

The third group are those who come to WiFi via the Routing & Switching world. They have a great deal of knowledge and experience with TCP/IP, IP Subnetting, routing protocols, and can explain how Spanning Tree helps in their networks. These folks are mostly from the Cisco camp.

The downside is they come at the Wireless world with ONLY networking experience. They see Wi-Fi as just an extension to their Cisco network. When asked about their workflow, you hear things like, “I followed the design WLC told me to”, or “WLC this”, or “WLC that” – their entire understanding of Wi-Fi comes from their Cisco portal to Wi-Fi, NOT from actually understanding the 802.11 protocol.

These Cisco folks are like the guy with a Hammer, who seems to think all the world is a Nail.

The best solution would be to have parts of all these people rolled into one. The experience from the guy who’s been in the trenches, coupled with the understanding of the rest of the network from the routing and switching perspective, all wrapped up with a deep-level understanding of how the 802.11 protocol works.

It’s only when all three of these come together that you get a true Wireless LAN Professional who can design, install, and troubleshoot Wi-Fi networks efficiently and accurately.

We want to see a doctor that understands the WHY of the human body, as well has WHAT to do to fix the problem. (and *not* use a hammer…)

Yes, I know this is only one man’s opinion… but I’ve had too many years of dealing with each of these one-sided personalities.

So if you have lots of experience and yet really don’t understand the 802.11 packet flows, then take a CWAP course and learn to get down and dirty with the packets.

If you come from a Cisco (or other vendor) background with a strong set of Routing and Switching fundamentals… you too need to get into the 802.11 protocol directly. Don’t only rely on merely what your controller is telling you.

If you just happen to be one who has the academic understanding of 802.11, but don’t have any experience… get some. And for heaven’s sake get out there in the R&S world by getting a Cisco CCNA so you can learn about the rest of the network.

By the way, EVERYONE in the Wireless LAN community needs to at a minimum have a CWNA.  How can you work day-in and day-out with Wi-Fi and not be able to pass the CWNA? And if you can’t… they this is a reminder that you need to study and prepare so you can.

A CWNA from the CWNP program is the ante to play in this game!

Keith R. Parsons

[email protected]