The First Annual CWNP Conference

By Eddie Forero, Blog Contributor
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After 15 years of training wireless professionals, CWNP (Certified Wireless Networking Professional) finally held their fist ever conference. And I was there to witness it all!

I've been installing WLANs for about 7 years. But, I've only really understood what I've been doing for about 3-4. By that I mean I was with a VAR, installing wireless networks, but didn't have a clear idea of how to implement them properly taking RF, and the peculiarities of 802.11 into consideration. I think this is true for many of us who got pulled into wireless from other areas like networking, server administration, or voice. We start with the impression that, "it's just networking without wires"! But, we soon learn nothing could be further from the truth.

About five years ago I started my own company providing voice and WLAN. That first year was pretty crazy. I was bootstrapping a brand new business, doing sales, service, and support all on my own. I hit the ground running and had some nice projects lined up. Also in that first year I came to the realization that I REALLY liked wireless way more than voice. So, I decided to focus on wireless and dropped that voice thing altogether.

And that's where it all came to a head. As I started learning more about wireless I realized rather quickly that I had no idea what I was doing. I was fine on the product side. I had gotten my vendor certifications and such, but I was starting to see the mistakes that I had been making along the way. Bad AP placement. Incorrect use of antennas. Channel plans that weren't really planned for at all. I needed to figure out this "RF" thing, and quick.

So, I began to start reading all I could about this weird thing called "802.11". I started following people on Twitter like @keith.r.parsons, @DevinAkin, @RevolutionWiFi, among others, and started to build up a passion for wireless. Enter CWNP.

I kept hearing about this thing called "CWNA" (Certified Wireless Network Administrator) by this other thing called CWNP (Certified Wireless Networking Professional). CWNP provides training for wireless professionals and administrators. It was just what I was looking for. I bought the CWNA Study Guide and started reading and, wow, did I not know what I did not know!

I immediately started putting this new knowledge to good use. My designs improved, my clients were happier, and I was becoming more confident in what I was doing. Getting my CWNA and my ACMX were huge highlights in my career and the WLAN community and CWNP has a lot to do with it. I highly recommend to anyone looking for a career in wireless, or had to manage a WLAN to get involved with the wireless community on Twitter, but at the very least get the CWNA Study Guide. Vendor certifications are great for learning the product you're deploying, but vendor neutral certifications will allow you to make the most of that product. If you get the wireless bug like I did look at all the CWNP certifications available.

So, (this, where I get to the actual point of this post!) when I heard about CWNP having their 1st ever conference I wanted to make sure I was there. How could I miss a congregation of WLAN geeks all in one place? I got to meet and learn from the biggest and brightest in the industry. I got to hear from those out there doing critical work in healthcare, education, standards bodies, stadium Wi-Fi, and more. And, of course, I have bragging rights to say I was at the very 1st one!

(And I got an Aruba RAP-155 in my gift bag!)

Here are some interesting tidbits we heard at CWNP Conference:

- IoT (THE INTERNET OF THINGS) - Abbey Strong (@wifi_princess) spoke on how IoT is going to be a major challenge going forward. Besides the millions (billions?) of new devices that will be added to our WLANs in the next four years - we have to figure out how to secure what are essentially consumer devices, not designed with enterprise security in mind. Also, the power differential between these IoT devices and typical devices found in the enterprise are yet another thing to factor in your wireless design.

- HEALTHCARE - Ali Youssef (@AliYoussef_) enlightened us on how mobility is becoming much more important as a way of quickly, and efficiently delivering healthcare to patients. Huge challenges are critical-care devices that use subpar wireless NICs, and subpar security to connect to the WLAN. Another issue is the lack of wireless expertise, and standards from the manufactures of these devices. Also a challenge - designing WLANs for dense pockets of fast moving mobile users.

- PHY CHALLENGES - Stoney Tuckness (@StoneyTuckness) of MetaGeek, spoke on the prevalence of 2.4Ghz and then took us on a trip around the world as he quizzed us on what we thought the percentage of 2.4 vs. 5Ghz would be. We were so wrong. From Asia, to South America, to our very own backyard, 2.4Ghz won out by a wide margin! After 5 years of 802.11n we still have a nearly pristine 5Ghz band!

The common thread to almost all of the CWNP presentation was "device manufactures don't care". Many still sell devices that are 2.4Ghz only (client and access points!), have bad algorithms that choose 2.4 over 5Ghz every time, provide no, or little support for Enterprise security, and poor visibility into what the client sees in the air. Pretty much every speaker brought up the "client issue". And it's only going to get worse with more mobile devices and IoT devices hitting our enterprise WLANs.

(For those who are interested here are the slides for all the CWNP Conference speaker presentations.)

So, a perfect take-away from the CWNP Conference is that if you have responsibility over a WLAN, or are a WLAN professional, you need to understand the wireless medium. CWNP offers the training to learn what you need to know to better design the networks of the future, and it's only going to get more complicated going forward. Get certified!

In the end, the reason CWNP was a draw was because it was populated with people that love what they do and want to share that passion. And by people who think they are making a difference in the world. In the end isn't that what we all want?

Check out some of the CWNP pictures here.