If you have been around for long in the computer networking industry, you’ve probably heard about CCNA voice. For those who haven’t heard about this or those who have only a little idea of what it is, this article will provide a deeper understanding of what CCNA voice is all about and how to obtain the certification. I have taken the certification exam so I will share some of my experiences in preparing for this certification. Let’s get started.

What Is CCNA Voice?

Let me give you a small history of how this certification came about. Cisco started its business mainly on routing and switching. It was when they purchased an IP telephony company called Selsius that Cisco went into the VOIP business. To certify voice network engineers and to assess their skills, Cisco launched the CCVP (Cisco certified voice professional). The prerequisite to become a CCVP is to pass the CCNA (before it was only R&S). CCVP was quite successful, but Cisco felt that there was something missing. There was no entry-level certification for voice that would allow individuals in training to get introduced to this fascinating world of VOIP. CCVP was considered quite advanced for people who have little to no telephony background.

CCNA voice was created to bridge that gap. This certification was designed for networking professionals to get introduced to the fundamentals of voice technologies. The aim of this certification is to teach the structure of the voice network and how to administer it. To get a CCNA voice certification, only one exam is required: 640-461 ICOMM (Introducing Cisco voice and Unified Communications Administration). However, as a prerequisite to take the 640-461 ICOMM exam, one has to pass the CCENT (Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician) exam first. Figure 1 below shows the Cisco certification levels and Table 1 shows the breakdown of the ICOMM exam.


Figure 1- The Cisco Certification Levels

640-461 ICOMM Topics


Describe the characteristics of a Cisco Unified Communications solution
Describe the Cisco Unified Communications components and their functions
Describe call signaling and media flows
Describe quality implications of a VoIP network
Provision end users and associated devices
Describe user creation options for Cisco Unified Communications Manager and Cisco Unified Communications Manager Express
Create or modify user accounts for Cisco Unified Communications Manager
Create or modify user accounts for Cisco Unified Communications Manager Express using the GUI
Create or modify endpoints for Cisco Unified Communications Manager
Create or modify endpoints for Cisco Unified Communications Manager Express using the GUI
Describe how calling privileges function and how calling privileges impact system features
Create or modify directory numbers
Enable user features and related calling privileges for extension mobility, call coverage, intercom, native presence, and unified mobility remote destination configuration
Enable end users for Cisco Unified Presence
Verify user features are operational
Configure voice messaging and presence
Describe user creation options for voice messaging
Create or modify user accounts for Cisco Unity Connection
Describe Cisco Unified Presence
Configure Cisco Unified Presence
Maintain Cisco Unified Communications system
Generate CDR and CMR reports
Generate capacity reports
Generate usage reports
Generate RTMT reports to monitor system activities
Monitor voicemail usage
Remove unassigned directory numbers
Perform manual system backup
Provide end user support
Verify PSTN connectivity
Define fault domains using information gathered from end user
Troubleshoot endpoint issues
Identify voicemail issues and resolve issues related to user mailboxes
Describe causes and symptoms of call quality issues
Reset single devices
Describe how to use phone applications

Table 1. 640-461 ICOMM Topics

Who Should Take CCNA Voice Certification and What Skills Are Required?

Anyone can take this certification but is highly recommended for those who are working in NOC (network operations center) and end-user facing positions. This is because CCNA voice is focused on administration and support. Administration basically means maintaining what has already been built. CCNA voice is not about having the skills to build a voice network anew but rather the skills to maintain and keep it running well. This certification mainly focuses on five components of Unified Communications namely: CUCM, CUMCE, CUPS, CUC, and end-user devices such as IP phones.

A CCNA voice candidate needs to have several skills that are vital to support the end users and the call processing systems. We can say that this certification is more of an end-user-centric one. Basic things like adding phones and users in the CUCM or CUCME are the bread-and-butter skills for a CCNA voice candidate. The candidate should also learn how to add users and phones using the bulk administration tool or BAT. Learning to configure the CUCME using CLI is a very good practice in order for the candidate to be prepared in instances where CUCME can’t be configured using GUI on a specific router.

Though the CCNA voice is not focused mainly on gateway configurations, the candidate is expected to at least master how to verify PSTN issues and how to troubleshoot them.

In case the end user has a problem with his phone, one should have the skills to troubleshoot problems such as phone registration, phone features, VLAN, etc. The candidate should understand the boot-up process of the phone and how it interacts and connect to the CUCM. This understanding will help him develop his phone troubleshooting skills. Moreover, the candidate should have an understanding of the phone features and how to use the phone soft keys and buttons. In real life, usually the ones who conduct phone user training are the ones who support the phones.

Additionally, though these are not widely discussed in the CCNA voice curriculum, the CCNA voice candidate is also expected to understand and administer CUPS (presence/instant messaging) and CUC (voice mail) like adding voice mailboxes.

What if you are not in the NOC or user environment but in the networking field? If you happen to be a network or system project engineer who frequently works with voice engineers, it is beneficial for you to take this certification as well. This is to help you understand the concepts behind the voice infrastructure so you will be able to do your part well in the project to support the voice engineer. I charge it to experience. Before understanding voice technologies, I oftentimes work with voice engineers in some projects and it is really painful if you have no clue what they are talking about. When I took up my CCNA voice, it made my work a lot easier. Being CCNA voice certified eventually opened opportunities for me to do voice projects.

If you are not one of those I mentioned above you might ask the question: “I just graduated from college and am inexperienced in networking, is it okay for me to take the CCNA voice?” The answer to that is definitely YES. To start a career in networking, it is not necessary to have routing and switching experience. The technologies discussed in CCNA voice are totally different from what is discussed in CCNA R&S. Only a few technologies are similar on both tracks. The second reason why it’s worthwhile to get CCNA voice is your value on the market. Based on the Gartner Magic Quadrant figure below, dated August 2012, Cisco is the leader of the Unified Communications market. This basically means Cisco is selling better and more than the rest of its competitors. The more equipment sold, the more manpower required to support it, which equates to more job opportunities for CCNA voice certified personnel.


Figure 2 – Gartner Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications

How Should I Prepare for the Exam?

Read Books—Preparation is very important for any task. The quality of your preparation will always play a major role in the outcome of the exam. One of the best things a candidate can do for CCNA voice exam preparation is to read books and understand the theory. The book I recommend is the 640-461 Official Cert Guide by Jeremy Cioara. For more information on this book, click here.

When reading books or materials, many candidates fall into the error of memorizing the definitions word for word but failing to grasp the meaning of the topic. Understand first and memorize later. Using flash cards to take note of useful terms and their meanings is a good way to jog your memory. Try to explain a topic and, if you can do it using your own words, it means you already understand the topic.

You may also watch computer-based training videos that will show you how to configure and troubleshoot the devices. This provides a clearer picture of the theories you have learned and how to apply them in real-world scenarios.

Enroll in a CCNA Voice Boot Camp – It is best if you have someone experienced in the field to guide you and provide answers to you doubts. If you think you know it all, join a boot camp and you’ll realize the points and angles you’ve missed about a specific topic. Self-learning is cool but it is cooler and wiser to have someone correct your mistakes. In the boot camp, you will also meet people at the same level as you are and it’s good to have a group of people helping each other to achieve the certification. Human networking is the most valuable tool you have in case you need help with some voice network issues in the future.

Intense School provides a top quality CCNA Voice Boot Camp. Click here for more information on the offering.

Build Your Own Lab—Apply the theories you learned in a lab environment. Testing and configuring will make your learning complete. This gives you the feeling that you are doing it in a production environment. Each time you are labbing a certain technology, your confidence builds up and you will get comfortable configuring the device.

What I did for my preparation was to build my own home lab, which consisted of all virtualized equipment. I virtualized my own CUCM using VMware, which I connected to virtual routers hosted in GNS3. The CUCME can be run inside the virtual routers. As for the phones, I used CIPC (Cisco IP communication), which can be downloaded for free from the Cisco website and I used the third-party software IP Blue, which can run several SCCP phones at the same time.

If you have the money, you can purchase an ISR voice router, preferably a 2800 series with FXS and FXO ports, a few IPs, and analog phones. Having a voice gateway inside your home lab will greatly help you understand the basics of how the CUCM or the CUCME is configured to make your VOIP network communicate with the PSTN network.

It is definite that you will learn a lot when building your own lab, including how to install CUCM, CUCME, CUPS, and CUC from scratch. Though these are not part of the CCNA voice curriculum, knowing how to install these systems is really helpful in real life and when pursuing for higher certifications, such as CCNP voice.

Where Can I Take the Exam?

When you are ready, go to the nearest Pearson Vue testing center. The computer-based exam consists of single-choice, multiple-choice, and few drag-and-drops. The exam takes 90 minutes and costs around $250.

I hope this article provided you insights on what CCNA voice certification is all about. Thanks for reading.

References:

Cisco CCNA voice:

http://www.cisco.com/web/learning/certifications/associate/ccna_voice/index.html
https://learningnetwork.cisco.com/community/certifications/voice_ccna
http://www.cisco.com/web/learning/exams/list/icomm.html#~Topics

Gartner Magic Quadrant:

http://www.gartner.com/technology/reprints.do?id=1-1BUWTHV&ct=120828&st=sb&goback=.gde_2517400_member_165649625#!