If you followed my reviews on the latest Linksys Wi-Fi 6/E routers, including the MX5 Velop AX, the MR9600, the MR7500, you’d note how I lamented the fact, among other things, you might think you must use the Linksys mobile app for the setup process, instead of the web interface.
(As it turned out, there’s a way to forgo this app and get the routers up and running using just the web user interface. You’ll find out how to do that in the lower part of this post.)
There’s been a trend in home networking that forces or coerces users into signing up for a login account with the vendor and associate their home network with it.
This all started years ago with the eero. Nowadays, you’ll find this type of practice common in many vendors, such as Linksys, Netgear, or TP-Link. Each has its own tricks for the same objective.
In my opinion, this is a terrible approach that, among other things, causes privacy and security issues. Let’s find out the differences between using the good old web user interface and the mobile app.
Dong’s note: I first published this piece on August 8, 2020, and last updated it on May 29, 2021, with additional relevant information.
Router management: Mobile app vs web user interface
In managing your home network, you generally have two options: A mobile app and a web user interface (UI) — or a web interface for short. Some routers make you choose one or the other. Others give you both.
Web user interface: It’s real and isolated
By default, the web UI is for local access. You can manage your router, hence your home network, when you’re at home. It’s just like the way you use your actual home, like your bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, etc. In other words, it’s real.
If you’re sophisticated enough, you can set up remote access via Dynamic DNS, and now you can watch your home and manage certain things from afar. It’s slightly less real but still within your control. For the most part, there are just you and your home router involved.
So the local web interface is good. It’s about you.
Advantages of using the web user interface
While the look and feel of the web interface can be intimidating at first, using this old-school method to manage your router has a lot of advantages, including:
- It’s ubiquitous: Every computer (and smartphone/tablet) has a browser. As a result, when a router supports a web interface, you can manage it immediately. There’s no need to install an app beforehand. (In other words, the browser is a pre-installed app available on all devices.)
- It’s consistent: No matter what device you use, be it a Mac or a Windows computer or a mobile device, the web interface remains the same. More importantly, most interfaces — in routers of different vendors — share a high level of similarity. As a result, if you know to manage one router via the web interface, chances are you can do so on any routers that has a web interface.
- In-depth customization: Most, if not all, web interfaces allow access to all of the router’s settings and features.
- Better privacy: You generally don’t need to register a login account with the vendor to use the web interface. Your router and, therefore, the home network will not connect to the vendor at all times. By default, no third party has access to what you and your family do online.
In short, using the web interface means you own your home network, the router is yours, you can do whatever you want with it without going through another party.
Using a mobile app to manage around is a new trendy option, starting with the boom of smartphones and tablets.
Due to the pressure of a new generation of users who generally lack patience and don’t bother with a real computer, most networking vendors have made a mobile app for their routers an alternative (or supplemental) option to the web interface.
The app is supposed to bring ease of use to end-users, and it might deliver that in certain routers. The Asus Router app, for example, works just like the web interface. It doesn’t require a login account with Asus to work.
So the app itself is not inherently bad. Rather it’s the intention behind the app that can be problematic. That’s especially true when a vendor attempt to turn you into a product via the app.
Mobile app: It’s all about your data
Have you ever wonder how exactly the app on your phone is linked to the router at home? There’s no magic. You likely pay for that with your personal information.
In fact, the mining of personal information is so lucrative that many vendors — such as Google (the maker of Google Nest Wifi) or Amazon (the owner of the eero) — have gone as far as taking the web interface entirely out of their home networking devices and make the app the only option. Others try to coerce users into the app artificially.
So personally, I have a lot of issues with using the app for router setup and management.
Issues with using mobile app for routers
Extra hardware/software required: You must have a mobile device and install an app. That alone can be time-consuming and costly.
- Privacy concerns: When a login account is required (which is almost always the case), the router and the app connect to the vendor at all times. As a result, your privacy can be compromised. That’s because the party you log into can keep tabs on your online activities or a portion of that.
- You’re the product: If you ever wonder why a vendor would like to collect data from your network, the answer is, among other things, advertising. Your online habits reveal a lot about what you have bought and are going to buy. This type of information, collected over time, is a gold mine for the receiving end. In other words, you become the product. In most cases, the convenience of using the app is just a tiny gain when you consider the amount of data the app (and the vendor) collect from your network.
- Limited network settings and features: Generally, the app doesn’t have the same level of access to a router’s settings and features. It’s restrictive due to the screen size and power of the mobile device.
- Inconsistent experience: The vendor must design the app for a specific platform (iOS or Android) and then for particular screen sizes. And that’s a lot of work. So, it might work well on one and not the other. You will likely not have the same experience using the app on different devices.
- It’s your router/network, or is it? You pay for the router. You should be able to use it independently from the vendor.
So using a mobile app via a login account means you don’t really own your network. Instead, you have to ask for another party’s “permission” or at least notify it before making changes to the hardware.
This is like you have to ask a plumber for permission or notify him each time you use your bathroom, who then would know your bathroom-related activities and habit.
On top of that, there are also security risks. That’s because the vendor itself can be hacked, and when that happens, you have no idea who gets a hold of the data collected from your home network and what they’re going to do with it.
That has happened and will happen again.
Above is a screenshot of a message Ubiquiti sent to its user in early 2021. Basically, if you had used one of its AmpliFi routers, such as the AmpliFi HD or the Alien, your account was at risk at one point. (And nobody can tell you for sure it’d always be safe in the future.)
The final thoughts
I’m a fan of owning a product outright. You pay for a router, and you should have the option to use it however you want. It’s yours, after all. App-based devices, to some extent, make the vendor the real owner of your device or even your network.
Also, networking is a complicated category. The deeper access and more control you have over your router, the better chance you’d get the most out of it. The Web UI generally gives you that. On the other hand, mobile apps tend to dumb things down. Consequently, using the app can turn you clueless about certain important aspects.
Finally, note that even when you opt for the web interface, there are routers (from Netgear, or TP-Link, Linksys, and more) that still ask you to sign up for a log-in account and link your home network to it. In this case, you’re not better off, privacy-wise, compared to using an app.
The point is this: Avoid using a login account when you can. Sometimes that’s as simple as paying a bit of attention during the initial setup process.
And that brings us to the next part, where I’ll show you how to avoid having to use a login account or the mobile app with Linksys’s new Wi-Fi routers or mesh systems.
(You can do similarly with Netgear’s or TP-Link’s devices, which are generally more self-explanatory. Their local web interfaces are also less deliberately neutered or obscured.)
How to handle a new Linksys broadcaster using just the web interface
All Linksys Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E routers/mesh systems have the traditional web UI and the Linksys mobile app. But the networking vendor makes it look as though you must use the mobile app (and all that implies) to set up and use the device at all.
On top of that, by default, Linksys also deliberately removes advanced settings from the web interface to make similar the mobile app in terms of access and functionality.
You’ll learn here how to avoid the login account and mobile app entirely and bring some advanced settings back to the web interface. The information provided here is no secret, but it’s something Linksys sure wants to obscure from general home users.
Steps to set up a new Linksys router or mesh system sans mobile app
Following are the steps to use a Linksys router’s local web interface for the initial setup process. Again, you won’t need your phone, nor do you need to use the Linksys mobile app.
All you need is a computer with a web browser — all computers have one. Then follow these steps.
1. Note the default information
Flip the router up and take a look at its default information on the underside. This info includes the Wi-Fi name and password. There’s also a Recovery Key (or PIN) — make a note of it.
2. Access the router’s web interface
Connect a computer to the router using the default Wi-Fi information mentioned above or a network cable.
Now access its web user interface by pointing a browser to the router’s default IP address, which (almost always) is 192.168.1.1 (no quotes). (Don’t know what this is? Find out more in this post about IP addresses.)
A webpage will open, as you can see in the screenshot below.
Ignore the message about downloading the mobile app. Instead, click on the picture of the app on the left. (Note that your mouse cursor’s shape will not change when you hover on the image to suggest the image is clickable, but it is.) A new page will open up, as seen in the next step.
3. Log in the interface
The new page will show the traditional login page of the router. Enter the default password, which is admin.
Alternatively, or if the password doesn’t work, you can click on Reset password. You’ll be prompted to enter the Recovery Key. In this case, follow the subsequent steps to create a new password.
And that’s it. Now you can log in to the router’s local web interface, where you can change the settings the standard way.
How to enable access to advanced settings in a Linksys Wi-Fi 6/E router
Once you’ve successfully logged into the web interface, there’s just one more thing to do to make sure you can access the router’s advanced settings.
Look for the word CA at the bottom of the webpage and click on it. (CA stands for consumer advocacy, by the way.) Now, the page will reload, and you’ll be able to access all possible router settings.
Here are a few screenshots of some extra settings you’ll find.
Using this trick, you’ll be able to set up and use your new Wi-Fi solution, be it a single router or a mesh system, without giving Linksys any personal information. If you want remote management, you can use Dynamic DNS.
Unfortunately, even with this trick, the option to backup the router’s settings to a file and restore it later or on a different hardware unit is still missing. Linksys told me that it would consider bringing that backup via a future firmware update. We’ll have to wait and see. I’d not bet on that, though.