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Linksys Velop Smart Wi-Fi Overview: A Flexible (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.

It works like this: 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 independently from Linksys when used within the local network. 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 was when 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 they intended: as 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 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 approach and the subsequent about-face change of course

The second development in mind-2021, Linksys followed (or even started) a trend in the industry with the app coercion only to reverse that in early 2024.

Specifically, from mid-2021 to mid-2023, Linksys wanted users to use the mobile app (and an online account) instead of the web-based interface for the initial setup and ongoing management of a new router or Velop mesh system.

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.

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 that during this period:

  • You could still use the web user interface to set up and manage the hardware, enable all advanced settings with the web interface, and use the interface to add mesh child nodes—via some tricks mentioned below. And
  • With a bit of attention, you could use any Linksys router or mesh system completely independently from Linksys—without a login account.

In early 2024, with new management, Linksys made a decision to reverse this app coercion in its new "pain-free" approach. In fact, it wanted to go even further in making the hardware nonsense-free.

Starting with the new Velop Micro 6 Mesh, the vendor aims to make the hardware:

  • completely plug-and-play—users can use it without using the Linksys mobile app or even the web user interface. Those who want to use the app or the interface can still use them.
  • aesthetically pleasing enough to fit in any environment without being an eyesore or out of place.

And the new mesh system, for the most part, accomplished this objective in my trial. Linksys says it will release future hardware of the same consumer-friendly approach.

The networking vendor also plans to retrospectively apply it to the Velop Pro 7 and Velop Pro 6E. However, older hardware will remain in the above-mentioned app coercion realm. That said, with hardware release in mid-2023 and older, the trick below will come in handy in case you want to avoid the Linksys mobile app or the login account.

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

Following is a trick to use a Linksys router's local web interface for the initial setup process.

Again, you won't need your phone, the Linksys mobile app, or a login account. All you need is a computer with a web browser—all computers have one. If you don't have a computer, a mobile browser on a phone or tablet will work, too.

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.

Here are the steps:

  1. Flip the router up and take a look at its default information on the underside. Note three things:
    • The default Wi-Fi network's name (the SSID) and password for this Wi-Fi network. This password might also work as the admin password in some models.
    • The Recovery Key for password reset.
    • The reset button—press and hold it for 10 seconds will reset the hardware to the factory default settings.
  2. Connect a computer to the router using a network cable connected to its LAN port. You can also use the default Wi-Fi information, which is more applicable if you use a laptop or a mobile device for the setup process.
  3. Navigate the computer's web browser to the router's default IP address—which is 192.168.0.1—similar to setting up any standard router.
  4. At the screen that suggests you download the mobile app, click (or tap) on the app's picture—the image does not appear to be clickable. You'll be taken to the usual login screen.
  5. Use "admin" as the password or the default one printed on the device's underside, as shown in step #1. If that doesn't work, reset the hardware using the reset button and then the Recovery Key to create a new password.
Linksys Web User Interface App CoersionLinksys 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 or tap on (left) to bypass the suggested app requirement.

And that's it. The rest is self-explanatory. You can now set up the hardware completely without the Linksys mobile app or a Linksys Smart Wi-Fi account and handle the settings the standard way available to any router with a web user interface.

Linksys Smart Wi-Fi: The CA mode trick

Once you've logged in via the web user interface, you'll note, among other things, that you cannot 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 CALinksys Web User Interface Non CA
The Linksys Smart-WiFi web user interface in standard and CA mode (left). 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 the advanced settings and functions will be back. You must manually enable the CA mode 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 a mini NAS server 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 has never had premium add-ons designed for nickel and dime users. All you have to pay is the initial hardware cost. The company made even more clear in early 2024 via its new pain-free approach.

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.

Generally, you get only one SSID per band and then one additional Guest SSID. There's no virtual SSID in case you want to segment your network. While that's limited when compared to more advanced hardware of Asus, Synology or Ubiquiti, for most homes, that's flexible enough.

Linksys Velop Smart Wi-Fi's Overall Rating

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

Pros

Generally reliable Wi-Fi with good coverage; pain-free no-nonsense approach (starting early 2024)

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

Flexible wired/wireless backhaul

Cons

Modest hardware specs, lack of innovation in features and performance; expensive

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. Its new 2024 pain-free approach is a welcome change, but so far, it hasn't improved performance much. Nonetheless, from the consumers' perspective, the brand's future looks bright.

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