What I learned from the CWAP

Having just challenged and successfully passed the recent version of the CWNP’s Certified Wireless Analysis Professional (CWAP-402) exam, I wanted to put some thoughts down on (virtual) paper about the experience. **DISCLAIMER** I’m not going to talk about, or even hint at the exam’s contents, you’ll have to book and experience it for yourself.

To start, what’s important is knowing who the Certified Wireless Network Professionals (CWNP) are, and why the program is so universally relevant.  From their website, https://www.cwnp.com/about  – “Certified Wireless Network Professional (CWNP) is the IT industry standard for vendor neutral enterprise Wi-Fi certification and training.”  The greatest part, for me, about the whole CWNP is the vendor-neutral part.  Talking to people about certifications I generally break it down this way; vendor technical certifications are typically focused on “how” to implement a solution or product X, which is good, has its place and is definitely important.  What the CWNP process offers though is the “why” and universal wireless truths.  Here’s a video breakdown of the learning track with the levels and disciplines: https://youtu.be/VuhONgb6rIM


For me, the CWAP exam represented the final of the three CWNP exams I needed to successfully challenge and complete before I could submit my application for the Certified Wireless Network Expert (CWNE).  It’s been a common comment and axiom in the wireless community that people should probably complete the CWAP first before the Design (CWDP) and Security (CWSP) Professional tracks. However, my job history and duties have dictated the order I’ve completed things.  Years ago, I was exclusively involved in the pre-sales and design phases, so learning the CWDP realm was most relevant.  Later, after a job change when I became fully engaged in the installation and operational phase, I had to take on a constant load of access control projects with Cisco’s Identity Services Engine (ISE).  This meant that for me at least, learning the CWSP material made the most sense.  So, like Keith Parsons (@KeithRParsons) says for a lot of wireless things, “it depends.”

Having said that, the CWAP, for me, was one of the most in-depth, challenging and interesting exams I’ve pursued.  When I say that, I don’t mean just the actual writing of the exam, I mean the study process as a whole.  If you’re studying for this exam, you must completely and totally commit and immerse yourself in the topics to get the most out of it.  Let’s look at the exam topics from the official CWNP website (https://www.cwnp.com/certifications/cwap):

  • 11 Physical (PHY) Layer Frame Formats and Technologies
  • 11 MAC Layer Frame Formats and Technologies
  • 11 Operation and Frame Exchanges
  • Spectrum Analysis and Troubleshooting
  • Protocol Analysis and Troubleshooting

When you read each of those five topics it’s very clear that you are going to be learning the foundations and nuts and bolts of the entire 802.11 process.  Not only that, but you have to know it cold, in detail and you will need to know how to use all the tools that test and troubleshoot the medium.

So now to the meat of it, what did I actually learn from the CWAP?  I definitely learned all the nuts and bolts of the Frame Control fields, not to mention the composition of the PHY Preamble and PLCP Header.  Wireshark filters for specific frame types and all the different frame types and subtypes in binary notation.  Oh, I filled two notebooks with facts, figures, sketches and scribblings.


But for me at least outside all the esoteric trivia I came away from the CWAP process with one lesson that is burned into my brain like never before:  how 802.11 wireless works.  I question the odds of me ever having to recall a great deal of the natty little details, especially if I can just look them up in reference materials, but when I put all those little bits together, I have a crystal-clear, unadulterated understanding of how and more importantly why 802.11 wireless works the way it does.  A good example of this would be with wireless Quality of Service, defined under the 802.11e amendment with Enhanced Distributed Coordination Access Function (EDCAF).  Studying and going through the CWAP process showed me exactly where in the 802.11 process QoS is applied, what exact parameters can be influenced and modified, how to troubleshoot to the nth degree, and most importantly, that it provides only probabilistic not absolute priority to clients.  For me that was huge, not just technically, but also for setting expectations with customers on what wireless QoS can actually accomplish.

Here’s a list of the core reference materials I used.  I also have to say that a home lab where you can capture wireless frames and analyze them in different scenarios is absolutely essential not just for this, but for any WiFi professional:

So here’s my advice to those who maybe just passed their CWNA and are trying to chart out their next step: study the CWAP content now.  Even if you aren’t going to challenge the exam, or are going to first challenge one of the other CWNP exams, or a manufacturer exam, pick the study guide(s) up and read them.  The core content within will help you with every single other piece of wireless learning you do. Enjoy the process, and good luck!


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