Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Setting Wireless Engineering Standards

In Portable Design we’ve long covered the evolution of wireless standards and applauded when new wireless interfaces finally emerged from standards bodies. It’s only by having universally recognized standards that these technologies can really be successful.

But what about standards for wireless engineers? Every year hundreds of schools in scores of countries graduate thousands of wireless professionals. Some graduates have a pretty basic education in the field, others a very advanced one and still others a lot of depth in a very specialized area. Unfortunately there is no common set of educational requirements for entry into the field and a great deal of variability globally in the quality of training. There are a lot of good people out there, but it’s hard to tell who they are.

Last year the IEEE Communications Society (Comsoc) launched the IEEE Wireless Communication Engineering Technologies (IEEE WCET) Certification Program to provide eligible individuals with a quantifiable method for demonstrating their expertise in wireless communications. Designed by IEEE ComSoc and an international collection of industry experts, the program was also designed to offer employers based throughout the world with a certifiable means for gauging the qualifications of wireless professionals.

According to Celia Desmond, the WCET project director, the project involved over 100 people worldwide working together for two years to develop the exam, which was first administered last October. In December, 2006 Comsoc formed the Practice Analysis Task Force (PATF), consisting of 16 industry experts with a wide range of experience. Every effort was made to focus on the practical knowledge and skills needed to be a successful wireless engineer; academics were only allowed to be involved if “they had one foot in planted in the industry.” The task force defined the scope of the exam and categorized the materials into seven knowledge areas: wireless access technologies; network and service architecture; network management and security; RF engineering, propagation and antennas; facilities and infrastructure; agreements, standards, policies and regulations; and fundamental knowledge.

Having drafted an initial set of questions, Comsoc then held focus groups around the world at wireless conferences and IEEE regional meetings. Each focus group took upwards of three hours, during which participants critiqued and refined the questions. The results were then sent to 14,000 people in the wireless industry, of whom 1,000 responded. They were asked, “In your company, how important is it that people know this information and be able to perform these tasks?” This feedback was used to determine the percentage of questions in each topic area; for example, technical questions make up 20% of the exam, while infrastructure takes up only 6%.

The exams were next sent to a group of industry professionals to build a question bank; other groups reviewed the questions. The rigorous program development process was highly moderated all the way through by Professional Examination Services.

The first exam—150 multiple choice questions administered on computer at regional testing centers—was held worldwide in October, 2008; a second one from March 16-April 4, 2009; the next one is scheduled for Fall, 2009.

Applicants for the test receive “A Guide to the Wireless Engineering Book of Knowledge (WEBOK)”, a 250-page treatment of technical, infrastructure and regulatory issues facing the wireless industry. Comsoc warns that “The WEBOK should not be reviewed as a study guide for a wireless certification exam…It is rather an outline of the technical areas with which a wireless practitioner employed in industry should be familiar, and offers suggestions as to where to turn for further information and study.” Applicants can also take a practice exam online to help them further identify areas they need to review.

The US$500 fee ($450 for IEEE and IEEE ComSoc members) covers the application, processing fees and “seat fee” for taking the test. A certificate is sent to those who pass the exam.

Portable Design strongly supports the WCET program and urges its readers to check it out. Interested professionals can visit for program information and updates including eligibility requirements, testing dates and locations, application information including deadlines, examination specifications, links to training organizations, and free resources such as a glossary, a list of references, and sample questions for helping candidates thoroughly prepare for the exam.

IEEE Communications Society, New York, NY (212) 705-8900 []

--John Donovan

1 comment:

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