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Linksys Velop Smart Wi-Fi Overview: A Flexible yet Stagnant Mesh Platform

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This post is a primer on Linksys Velop, a popular brand for home mesh-ready routers and purpose-built systems.

While the performance of each hardware unit (and mesh set) varies depending on their hardware specs, all Velop variants share the same firmware and, therefore, a similar set of networking/Wi-Fi features and settings.

You'll learn here that common core experience no matter which piece of Linksys hardware you decide to get. For their performance, check out its in-depth review, if available.

3 Pack Linksys Velop Pro 7 MBE7003 Mesh System
The Velop Pro 7 is Linksys's latest and first Wi-Fi 7 mesh system.

Linksys Velop: A flexible canned mesh brand

In January 2017, Linksys -- owned by Belkin at the time -- released its first purpose-built home mesh, the original Linksys Velop (model WHW0303), as the answer to Netgear's Orbi and the eero.

Linksys is one of the first original home networking vendors. Founded in 1988 in California, the company has changed owners multiple times. Cisco bought it in July 2008 and sold it to Belin in January 2013. Currently, Linksys is part of Foxconn, the world's largest electronics contract manufacturer based in Taiwan, which bought Belkin in 2018.

The hardware shares the same Smart Wi-Fi firmware as Linksys's standalone router, which had been available since early 2012. So, let's back up a bit.

Linksys Smart Wi-Fi: A brief history

Before the availability of the Velop canned mesh brand, Linksys had transitioned its home routers from the traditional menu-based firmware to a richer firmware called Smart Wi-Fi, which debuted in April 2012 with its EA series of Wi-Fi 4 routers, such as the EA2700.

In June 2012, the company introduced Cisco Connect Cloud as an add-on feature for its Smart Wi-Fi router -- an optional vendor-assisted remote management that allows users to control their network from anywhere via an account with Cisco.

The way it works: users associate a router with an online account. Then, they can log in to its local user interface remotely via an online portal instead of using the router's WAN IP address or a Dynamic DNS solution.

Privacy was still largely overlooked at the time, and Cisco Connect was just an option. Users can choose to use it or not.

After being acquired by Belkin, the Cisco Connect Cloud feature was changed to Linksys Smart Wi-Fi with a new online portal. Other than that, the cloud access and the Smart Wi-Fi firmware as a whole have remained largely unchanged since early 2012.

Linksys AXE8400 Mobile app
The Linksys mobile app, like the Smart Wi-Fi web interface, hasn't changed much since its launch.

The introduction of the Linksys MR routers and Linksys mobile app

The biggest change with the arrival of the original Linksys Velop is the introduction of the Linksys mobile app (for Android and iOS) as an alternative and optional way to handle the hardware in addition to the local web user interface.

Like the interface, the app can work locally independently from Linksys. However, when associated with a Linksys Smart Wi-Fi account, you can use it when you're out and about.

That's been the case, even today, with a few changes. Since the arrival of Wi-Fi 6, Linksys has had a new approach with two notable developments.

Linksys MR7500 AXE6600 Hydra Pro 6E Routers Ports
The MR7500 is one of the Linksys routers that are part of the Velop Intelligent Mesh ecosystem.

The single Smart Wi-Fi firmware

The first development is where Linksys made all its standalone routers mesh-ready with the new MR series.

The idea is that each standalone router can also be a mesh member when added to another MR router or a Velop system as a satellite. That's the case with most of its Wi-Fi 6/6E broadcasters, such as the MR7350, MR9600, or MR7500 Intelligent Mesh routers.

While this idea seems great on paper, in reality, these routers only work as well as their intended role: being the sole broadcasters in a home. Building a mesh system using this hardware can be hit or miss.

Linksys maintained some non-Smart Wi-Fi routers with a more traditional web user interface. The E8450 Wi-Fi 6 router is likely one of the last of this breed.

Still, the effort has streamlined Linksys home Wi-Fi hardware. Whether you get a Velop or an MR router, the experience is the same -- they all run on the same Smart Wi-Fi firmware. Consequently, they all share a common setup process, settings, and features. And that's a good thing.

Linksys AXE8400 Atlas Max 6E from above
The Linksys AXE8400 Atlas Max 6E is one of the first Wi-Fi 6E mesh systems.

The app coercion

The second development is the app coercion, a trend in the industry since mid-2021.

Specifically, Linksys wants users to use the mobile app (and an online account) for the initial setup and ongoing management of a new router or Velop mesh system instead of the web-based interface.

The company has done this by:

  • making the local web interface, generally accessible via the default IP address -- 192.168.0.1 -- appear unavailable for the initial setup. You'd find a message telling you to download the app and sign up for a Linksys Smart Wi-Fi account instead.
  • deliberately obscuring certain advanced settings on the local interface to make it match the less in-depth Linksys mobile app.
  • artificially removing the function that allows users to add new hardware to the primary router to form a mesh system from the web user interface.

As a result, unsuspecting users would choose to use the Linksys mobile app, sign up for a Linksys account, log in, and then use the app to set up the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi hardware, be it a single router or a mesh system.

And that's exactly what Linksys would want them to do.

Linksys and your privacy

Generally, using the hardware via a vendor-connected account means inherent privacy risks. With Linksys, you can use the hardware locally, though the vendor generally coerces users into a login account.

Here's Linksys's Privacy Policy.

Online privacy and security are a matter of degree. Companies handle their users' data differently.

However, it's worth noting the following:

  • You can use the web user interface to set up and manage the hardware. And
  • You can use any Linksys router or mesh system completely independently from Linksys -- without a login account. And
  • You can enable all advanced settings with the web interface and use it to add mesh child nodes.
LInksys Velop Pro 7 underside label
Note the recover key on the underside of most Linksys Smart Wi-Fi routers (or Velop hardware). You can use it to access the web user interface.

Linksys Smart Wi-Fi: How to bypass the mobile app

While it's fine to use the Linksys mobile app -- you can use it without a Linksys login account -- it's much better to manage Linksys hardware via the web user interface.

I wrote about the detailed steps in this post, but here are the quick 1-2-3:

  1. Navigate a web browser to the router's default IP address -- which is 192.168.0.1. It's part of setting up any standard router.
  2. On the screen that suggests the mobile app, click on the picture of the app itself -- the image does not appear to be clickable.
  3. Use the default "admin" password. If that doesn't work, reset the password using the Recovery Key printed on the router's underside.
Linksys Web User Interface App Coersion Linksys Web User Interface CA Link
Linksys Smart Wi-Fi: The app coercion (left) and the working full web user interface. Note the image you should click on (left) to bypass the app.

And that's it. The rest is self-explanatory.

Linksys Smart Wi-Fi: The CA trick

Once you've logged in via the web user interface, you'll note, among other things, that there's no way to add a child node to form a mesh. To enable this function and many other settings, you need to use the interface in the Consumer Advocate (CA) mode.

Linksys Web User Interface Non CA Linksys Web User Interface CA
The Linksys Smart-WiFi web user interface in non-CA (left) and CA modes. The latter offers many more settings and functions. Note the CA link that you should click on to activate the CA mode.

It's simple: Look for the CA link at the lower right corner of the web page and click on it. The interface will refresh, and now the advanced settings and functions are back. The CA mode must be manually enabled each time you log into the interface.

With that, let's move to what you can expect from any Linksys Smart Wi-Fi hardware, including standalone routers and Velop mesh sets. They are all part of the company's Velop mesh approach.

Linksys Velop: The common experience

The Velop mesh brand has undergone a few changes in its name.

The original name was Linksys Velop Intelligent Mesh, which persisted from Wi-Fi 5 to Wi-Fi 6 hardware. The Atlas Max 6E was the first where the "Velop" notion was removed, but it now comes back with the Velop Pro 7, Linksys's first Wi-Fi 7 mesh system.

And now the "Intelligent" notion has been changed to "Cognitive". So, currently, the full name is Linksys Velop Cognitive Mesh.

Despite the minor changes in the moniker, the hardware's firmware, and therefore its features and function, have remained the same.

Mesh composition, non-pre-synced hardware

A Velop mesh system (Wi-Fi 6 and newer) generally consists of multiple identical mesh routers -- except when you build a system using MR routers, as mentioned above, which is not recommended -- called "nodes".

Pick one to be the primary node -- the router. It will dictate the network's features and settings, including Wi-Fi settings. The rest of the units will become satellites, or "child nodes", to extend the Wi-Fi coverage. The satellite has no web interface of its own.

By default, a Velop mesh set uses "dynamic backhaul," meaning it'll use any of the available bands -- 2.4GHz, 5GHz, or 6GHz when applicable -- at any given time as backhaul or fronthaul, depending on the situation.

None of the bands, however, works as the dedicated backhaul.

Linksys Velop also supports wired backhauling, which is generally the best for performance. However, there's no way for users to determine which band will work as the backhaul. The system will decide by itself.

Generally, Linksys Velop supports mixing hardware of different sets or Wi-Fi standards. However, like the case of all canned mesh systems, it's best to use identical hardware units.

Linksys Velop hardware tends not to be pre-synced. Even if you get a 2-pack or 3-pack, you'll have to manually add each unit as a "child node" to the primary router, one at a time. The process can take up to 5 minutes or even longer per node, making setting up a Velop system more time-consuming than other canned mesh alternatives.

Common features settings

A Linksys Velop router shares the same network features and settings as any Linksys Smart Wi-Fi router.

Linksys Web User Interface Advanced Wi Fi Settings
Linksys Velop has advanced Wi-Fi settings for its mesh functionality.

Specifically, you can expect a standard set of network settings, including IP reservation, Dynamic DNS, support for one Guest network, Bridge mode, and so on.

In terms of features, you can expect the following:

  • A simple QoS called "Device Prioritization" or "Priority" allows you to drag and drop a few specific devices within the network on the high-priority list.
  • A basic Parental Controls section that allows blocking devices from the Internet on a schedule or from particular websites.
  • If the hardware has a USB port, you can turn it into aΒ mini NAS serverΒ when hosting a storage device. In a mesh system, you can use this feature on each satellite that has a USB port.
  • Experimental free Safe Browsing via a list of special DNS servers.

Other than that, a Velop system doesn't have much else. Specifically, so far, none has a built-in VPN server or has gaming features. Additionally, the Linksys Smart Wi-Fi firmware doesn't allow backing up and restoring the settings. If you replace a router, you must set it up from scratch.

But Linksys Velop is one of a few canned mesh ecosystems that doesn't have an add-on premium feature designed for nickel and dime users. All you have to pay is the initial hardware cost.

As for Wi-Fi settings, Linksys Velop has all standard Wi-Fi settings -- when the CA mode mentioned above is turned on -- where you can change the SSID, channels, channel width, Wi-Fi standard, and so on. Interestingly, it doesn't use Smart Connect. Instead, by default, you can name all bands with the same SSID and password to have some effect.

Linksys Velop Smart Wi-Fi's Overall Rating

7.5 out of 10
Linksys Velop Pro 7 MBE7003 Top
Performance
7 out of 10
Design and features
8 out of 10
Ease of Use
7 out of 10
Value and Privacy
8 out of 10

Pros

Generally reliable Wi-Fi with good coverage

Helpful mobile app, full web interface, optional vendor-assisted management

Flexible wired/wireless backhaul

Cons

Modest hardware specs; lack of innovation; expensive

Mobile app (and login account) coercion

No Dual-WAN, Link Aggregation, or VPN; no setting backup/restore; no pre-synced hardware

Conclusion

Generally, Linksys Velop is an excellent option if you want to mix wireless and wired backhauling. It's also one of a few options among canned mesh systems that, with some effort, can be managed completely independently from the vendor.

However, the hardware tends to be middling in specs, lacks Multi-Gig support, and has been consistently overpriced with Wi-Fi 6 and newer hardware. There's also a lack of innovation -- the firmware has largely remained the same for over a decade.

Overall, Linksys Velop Smart Wi-Fi is a decent option for those with modest bandwidth needs who want a reliable yet fairly easy-to-handle network.

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