Thursday, April 22nd, 2021

Router Management: Web Interface vs. App and the Evil Case Linksys Typifies

If you followed my reviews on the latest Linksys Wi-Fi 6 routers, including the MX5 Velop AX, the MR9600, and the MR7350, you’d note how I lamented the fact, among other things, 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 coerce users into signing up for a login account with the vendor and associate their home network with it. It all started with the eero.

In my opinion, this is a terrible practice that, among other things, causes privacy and security issues. Let’s find out why.

Dong’s note: I first published this piece on August 8, 2020, and updated it on January 12, 2021, with additional relevant information.

ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600 Adapter
The ARRIS SURFboard mAX AX6600 mesh system is an example of app-based home networking device.

Router management: Mobile app vs. web user interface

When it comes to 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 use one or the other, and others give you both.

Web user interface

For ages, the web interface has been the standard way to control home routers. As the name suggests, it’s a web page that you use a browser — such as Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Mozilla Firefox, or any other — to access.

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 (your router) involved.

So the local web interface is great. It’s about you.

Advantages of using the web user interface

While the look at feel of the interface can be intimidating at first, using this old-school method to manage your router has a lot of advantages.

  • 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.
  • 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 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 other routers (from any vendor.)
  • In-depth customization: Most 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.

Mobile app

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 that generally lack patience and don’t bother with a real computer, most networking vendors have made a mobile app for their routers as an alternative (or supplemental) option to the web interface.

Asus Router App
Asus is one of a few vendors that provide an app (called Asus Router) that works without a login account.

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’s troublesome.

It’s all about the vendor’s attempt to turn you into a product.

It’s all about your data

That’s right.

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 or Amazon — 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.

READ  eero Pro 6 vs. eero 6: How to Get the Most out of Your Amazon Wi-Fi

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. 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: That’s right. You pay for the router. You should be able to use it independently from the vendor.

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.

Ubiquiti Data Breach
The recent dreadful message from Ubiquiti.

Above is a screenshot of a message Ubiquiti sent to its user in the past couple of days. Basically, if you have used one of its AmpliFi routers, such as the AmpliFi HD or the Alien, your account is at risk.

The takeaway

Networking is a complicated category, and the deeper access you get to around, the better. Apps generally dumb things down. Consequently, using the app can turn you clueless about certain important aspects.

Most importantly, you should have the option to control your network fully. It’s yours, after all. App-based devices, to some extent, make the vendor the real owner of your device or even your network.

That said, I’ve always been an advocate of the web interface, and I was quite thrilled to learn from Belkin recently that there’s a way to forgo the Linksys app entirely, even when you get the latest Linksys routers.

Linksys MR9600 Router 11
The Linksys MR9600 Wi-Fi 6 router.

How to handle a new Linksys router using just the web interface

All Linksys Wi-Fi 6 routers come with both the traditional web UI and the Linksys mobile app. At the face of it, it seems you must use the mobile app (and all that implies) to set up a new router. But there’s a way to do so using the interface.

Linksys Intellgenti Mesh Setup
Setting up a Linksys mesh system using the mobile app is not always a walk in the park.

Also, to justify or encourage the use of the mobile app, by default, Belkin deliberately removes advanced settings from the web interface (which is readily available immediately after the setup process.) There’s also a way to turn these advanced settings back on.

The information provided here is no secret, but it’s something Belkin sure wants to obscure from end-users to coerce them into using the mobile app.

Steps to set up a new Linksys router sans mobile app

Following are the steps to use a Linksys router’s local web interface for the initial setup process.

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).

Linksys MR9600 Default Information
The underside of a Linksys Wi-Fi 6 router, note the default Wi-Fi network name, password and the Recovery Key.

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 generally is (no quotes). (Don’t know what it is? Here’s how to find out in this post about IP addresses.)

A webpage will open as you can see in the screenshot below.

Linksys UI Start Page
Ignore the message about downloading an app. Instead click on the picture of the app itself.

Ignore the message about downloading the mobile app. Instead, click on the picture of the app on the left. (Note that your mouse cursor will not change its shape when you hover on the image to suggest the image is clickable.) 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.

Linksys UI Password Page

Alternatively, you can also click on Reset password. You’ll be prompted to enter the Recovery Key (in step #1) which allows you 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 router

Once you’ve successfully logged into the web interface, there’s just one more thing to do to make sure you access the advanced settings of the router.

Linksys User Web Interface Main Page
Click on the CA link at the bottom of the web page will enable advanced access to the router’s settings.

Look for the word CA at the bottom of the webpage and click on it. (CA stands for consumer advocacy, by the way.) And that’s it. The page will reload and now you’ll be able to access all possible settings of the router.

Here are a few screenshots of extra settings you’ll find.

Linksys UI Wi Fi Setting Page 2
The Wi-Fi settings now have more than “Mixed” option.

Linksys UI Firmware Page
You now can update the firmware manually.

Unfortunately, even with this trick, the option to backup the router’s settings to a file and restore it is still missing. Belkin told me that it would consider bringing that backup via a future firmware update. We’ll have to wait and see.

15 thoughts on “Router Management: Web Interface vs. App and the Evil Case Linksys Typifies”

  1. I successfully configured the MR9600 out-of-the-box without downloading the app. The router works great. But the light is staying solid purple, which is supposed to mean that the router has not yet been configured. And it does not turn red like its supposed to when I unplug it from the cable modem.

    • Same issue, JJ. I also set up via web interface and am left with a purple (awaiting setup) light.

      All seems to be working fine regardless of the purple light.

      We’ll see if OCD kicks in and I break down and download the app.

  2. Thanks for the CA tip. I was just able to set my channels to the ones I wanted. Let’s see if it helps with the router’s issue of constantly becoming unresponsive.

    • And to add… if the app is required for the mesh system setup, is there a way to disconnect from Linksys after initial setup? Would much rather they not have traffic information after initial setup.

      • It’s a bit of a trick, but yes, Brian. You can just log into the Linksys account and choose to Close it. After that, you can keep using the system via the Interface. You won’t be able to add or remove nodes until you connect the the system to another account.

  3. So I am going back and forth on: one to keep the Mr9600 and two how to configure it.

    I like the Linksys because the interface is just like the last few linksys routers I have had, once I enabled the more advanced settings.
    However, when looking at my EA8500, I realize I have the wifi settings pretty generic, mixed mode on both 2.4 and 5.0 and Auto on channel and channel width. I haven’t had a lot of issues but I am looking for better WIFI throughput thus the MR9600. Our Comcast connection is 1GB down, 20MB up using my own router and cable modem.

    Sitting at my desktop the wired speed is fine, would like better wifi for the house, about 1500sqft. My current router is in a rack in the basement and does ok, even on the 3rd floor since this isn’t exactly the best built house.

    So my question is, what settings to tweak in the wifi interface to make it better without causeing dropouts?

    Thanks for any insight.

    • You seem to be one of those who love tinkering, Greg, which is great. But, then, you should move to an Asus router. To answer your questions, Linksys doesn’t allow for a lot of tweaks, I’d just leave the setting at the default (auto).

      • I like to tinker if it solves a problem, not if it causes a problem. Now TBH I got this router for $200.00 as there was a big price drop on them last week. One of my issues with the ASUS is availability, seems like a lot of these routers are sold out of stock.

  4. Thanks for figuring this out. I can’t stand having to use an app to do setup. I want to configure the router from my laptop and then connect it when I am sure all the settings are where I want them.

    Too bad about the inability to backup and restore settings, that is just stupid.


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