Review: Netgear Orbi WiFi system for your smart home

Review: Netgear Orbi WiFi system - All in all, the Netgear Orbi does indeed provide very good Wi-Fi coverage.
4.4/5 - (58 votes)

The Netgear Orbi offers a reliable, but above all powerful Wi-Fi network. Netgear’s tri-band solution provides very good range without having to lay cables. The fact that you are reading this review probably says enough about what you are looking for. A reliable, but above all powerful WiFi network, without laying cables. Does the Netgear Orbi WiFi system offer that? Yes, but in a special way. Knowing more? Then read on.

 Netgear Orbi WiFi system  – Appearances are deceptive

When unpacking the Orbi , the soft and round appearance is striking. No large protruding antennae, no octopus-like appearance. Yet here you are dealing with a huge powerhouse. So appearances are deceptive. The special thing about the Netgear Orbi is the presence of tri-band in combination with a router and satellite that you get with the package we tested, the RBK50.

Most routers today are dual-band: a band at 2.4GHz, with slightly more range but more intervention, and one at 5GHz, with less range but less intervention by other devices. Normal routers that communicate with multiple units, such as Google Wifi, use 1 of these 2 bands. This will cause a loss of speed from the main unit to the surrounding satellites. Netgear has found a good solution for this by using a third, separate, super-fast band that is only for communication between the main unit and the satellites. This technique can best be compared with a virtual cable. Orbi uses a 1.7Gbps 5GHz band purely for the transmission of signal to the Orbi satellite. The two remaining WiFi bands can therefore be fully used by connected devices.

There are two antennas each for the standard 2.4GHz and 5GHz, and even 4 antennas for the third band. This allows you to cover a surface of 350 m2, a claim that we will be questioning.

 Netgear Orbi WiFi system – Easy set-up

The router and satellite are already paired together at the factory. This makes it easy for the devices to find each other during the initial set-up. The gentle appearance matches the installation: very inviting. The box contains the 2 units, 2 power adapters and a network cable.

Only 3 steps are described in the starter guide. Connect the router unit to your modem, place the satellite somewhere, and let them connect. This is an easy process. After about 1 minute of searching, the white lights on the top will go out.

By means of a different color on the top the satellite will let you know if it is close enough to the router unit. Blue means good distance, as shown in the picture. This distance was 2 floors through reinforced concrete in the tested house, very impressive.

The software is also automatically updated at the end of the process. After the first 2 steps have been completed, you must continue on the screen to complete the setup. Here another error appeared, but on the second attempt everything went well and testing could begin.

 Netgear Orbi WiFi system – Power

In addition to the WAN connection on the router unit, both units have one USB port for connecting hard drives. Furthermore, a synch button can be used to search again for connection between the units if necessary, for example when resetting the network. There are also three gigabit connections on the router unit and even 4 on the satellite.

The Netgear Orbi has a total of 8 antennas, so enough power.

Mesh network or not?

A simple question, but a more difficult answer. The short answer is no: the satellites do not communicate with each other, a characteristic of a mesh network. For example,  Asus Hivespot , Huddle and  Google Wifi do. Instead, the Netgear Orbi uses their own tri-band setup for the best speed, as shown below.

This is understandable because the connection between the router unit and satellite is very good and the need to communicate from satellite to satellite decreases. This can also lead to a loss of speed, as shown in the image below.

Good, fine, better, best, the Orbi is everything

Another plus of the Netgear Orbi is the automatic switching between the router and satellite unit. If you are working on top of the satellite, and you walk down, your device automatically switches to where the strongest signal is. This is in contrast to conventional routers, where the signal is held until the range becomes too bad, and only then is switched. In practice, this is a very nice addition and you quickly get used to having good WiFi everywhere without first switching your WiFi on and off to toggle the best signal.

The one advantage is also a disadvantage at the same time. Because only one SSID is possible, a separate network for 2.4 gHz and 5 gHz cannot be created. Switching between 5GHz and 2.4GHz is sometimes a tricky issue. It regularly happened that the Orbi switched to the 2.4GHz channel to ensure the best range. This results in a lower speed, with a maximum of 80mbps. Turning the WiFi on and off fixed the problem, and the speed shot up again.

How much better is the Orbi?

Various speed tests are described below to answer this. The space is on the ground floor, with thick walls. It has been tested on both the 2.4GHz and the 5GHz band. The routers are the Orbi and the Cisco, a standard Ziggo modem / router. Both routers are in the same place. The test device is a MacBook Pro (2015). When in doubt, it was tested again with a Nexus 5X. The maximum speed of the internet subscription is 150 mbps.

Scenario 1 : in the middle of the living room with excellent coverage on both networks. The Netgear is faster in both cases. On the 5GHz it almost reaches the maximum 150mbps, where the Cisco router only gets stuck at 100mbps.

Scenario 2:  In the farthest corner of the living room, about 10 meters from the router, with 2 thick walls as a barrier. This is where the powerful signal from the Netgear comes into play and the Orbi achieves excellent speeds. The difference at 5 GHz is huge, 36 mpbs against 138 mpbs. The Orbi did switch automatically to the 2.4 GHz band here, so for the 5 GHz band an on and off of the WiFi was required. The speed of 2 mbps of the Cisco has also been achieved with a Nexus 5X: the range of the Cisco is simply no more than this. The Netgear effortlessly reaches 50 mpbs here, a very big difference.

The speed and range of the network was also excellent. A house with two floors, several thick walls with reinforced concrete walls and the necessary metal disturbances: the Orbi can handle it all perfectly. The speed tests also show that even on the second floor of the satellite unit, a speed of 140 mpbs was achieved. A great achievement without laying a single cable.

There are also a few options that can be adjusted via a separate network interface. One option is to enable mu-mimo and beamforming. This allows data to be sent to multiple devices simultaneously on a single channel. Your device must have support for this. In addition, there are functionalities such as IPv6, Dynamic DNS, port forwarding, settings for parents to filter certain sites, and access point mode. Unfortunately, the Orbi does not support the 802.15.4 based ZigBee frequency. This is a protocol that many iOT applications use. Routers such as Google Wifi and OnHub do have support for this.

 Netgear Orbi WiFi system – Conclusion

All in all, the Netgear Orbi does indeed provide very good Wi-Fi coverage. This is done without sacrificing speed and having to lay cables. Here you pay 430 euros for the router and satellite together, a hefty price. The separate router has a suggested retail price of 260 euros. However, if you want a well-functioning and fast home network and want to make an investment for the future, the Netgear Orbi is a very good choice.

Pros of Netgear Orbi WiFi system 

  • Range of all three bands
  • Speed
  • And all without laying cables 
Negatives of Netgear Orbi WiFi system 

  • No support for ZigBee
  • Switching between 2.4 and 5 GHz is difficult
  • Pricey