The Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) certification program has included specializations in routing and switching, communications and services, and security. The routing and switching program has traditionally been the most popular. So when people say that they’re a CCIE, they’re usually referring to the routing and switching specialization.

In March, Cisco Systems announced that it has expanded the expert level from three to four areas of specialization with the new CCIE voice certification. Here’s an overview of what to expect when taking the CCIE voice certification exams, as well as some insights based on my personal experience.

What to expect in the CCIE exams
CCIE certification requirements are broken up into two parts: a “written,” computerized qualification exam and a lab exam. You must complete the qualification exam prior to scheduling or attempting your lab exam.

Preparing for the qualification exam
To help you prepare for the qualification exam, Cisco has released a CCIE Voice Exam Blueprint. The blueprint offers this invaluable list of “must-know” topics for the lab exam:

  • LAN Campus Design
  • QoS
  • Protocols
  • Telephony TDM
  • SMDI
  • Security
  • Capacity Planning of Voice Gateways & Networks
  • Dial Plan
  • High-availability Considerations
  • Video
  • Echo Theory
  • Fault Diagnosis
  • SIP Proxy
  • Coexistence/Migration
  • Unified Messaging
  • Capacity Planning of the Application Level
  • Call Processing
  • Manageability Considerations
  • 911/E911 Considerations

The CCIE voice qualification exam (test # 351-030) was available in beta format from March 17 to April 7, 2003, when cert seekers could take the test at the discount price of $50 (reduced from $300). Immediate feedback was not available, and test takers instead received the news in a letter via the U.S. Postal Service. The exam contained 100 questions and imposed a two-hour completion deadline.

After the Cisco test makers have reviewed the results of the test takers and the success of their questions, they will release the production format exam.

The lab exam
The lab exam is a grueling daylong test that covers a huge breadth and depth of Cisco-centric material. Basically, anything to do with Cisco-based networking and “voice over” networking is fair game for the lab exam.

If you have read about any of the CCIE labs, you know that the Cisco documentation will be available to you. However, the largest determining factor of whether you’ll pass or fail the lab exam is speed of execution. In other words, most experienced network administrators can configure what is required using the documentation, but the key to passing the CCIE lab is configuring it quickly and accurately.

You must pass the lab test with a score of 80 percent or better. Because many of the tasks are intertwined, there is no partial credit. So mistakes must be absolutely minimized or they will compound quickly and you will fail.

Other voice cert options
Other than the new CCIE voice certification, Cisco also offers these three Cisco Qualified Specialist certifications for voice:

These are individual certifications that focus narrowly on a certain topic area. They require a valid CCDA, CCNA, and CCNP certification, respectively, prior to attempting the certification test.

My experience
I just completed the CCIE security qualification exam, and it was challenging for me even though I’m already CCIE routing and switching certified. I suspect that the CCIE voice qualification exam will be equally challenging, and I wouldn’t attempt it without some hands-on experience. Although these tests contain mostly multiple-choice questions, the vastness of material they cover makes them difficult to pass just by memorizing facts from a book.

Voice-over-IP continues to grow in popularity, and Cisco is one of the companies leading the way. The CCIE voice certification is bound to be valuable in any network engineer’s career path.