Wireless expertise is built on solid math and science

13 July 2013 by Steve Blum

Passion only gets you so far in the jungle.

I was recently asked for advice on who to send to a wireless Internet technology training course and whether it would be worth the money. My answer was if you send the right people, it’s very valuable, but the wrong people could easily make things worse.

The right people are those with a professional engineering background (including a college degree) or at least accredited information technology (IT) and radio frequency (RF) training and experience coupled with good math skills. Someone with little technical background but expertise in another area (business, administration, economic development) and a keen appreciation of the fact that he or she is a technical novice is a good fit too.

The wrong people would be those who consider themselves to be technical gurus but lack formal training and advocates who are non-technical but consider passion to be a good substitute.

The danger is that people who lack quantitative analytical skills and a reasonably broad base of technical knowledge will hear what they want to hear, assume that they are now experts and commence giving bad advice at a 100% confidence level. I’ve seen this happen more than once, sometimes with very expensive consequences.

Wireless broadband can be an excellent solution for rural areas, but only if it is implemented with a solid understanding of the limits of whatever technology is used and the demands of the terrain and the market. Manufacturers publish specifications that are built in part on theoretical models and in part on the assumption of a particular set of circumstances. Taking it at face value is wishful thinking and bad engineering. There’s no substitute for understanding the underlying math and physics.

IT professionals are used to drawing a circuit diagram and having it perform more or less as intended. The wireless world is different. Where IT folks envision networks as benign clouds that perform consistently, RF people see a steamy jungle where it’s a fight to survive in a hostile and constantly changing environment. Understanding that difference is the key to becoming a true wireless expert.

So matching the right people to the right training comes down to either making 1. a smart person smarter or 2. an ignorant person more confidant in his ignorance or 3. a passionate person more passionate.

Option 1 is absolutely worth the money.