Mesh Wi-Fi networks have already been all the rage since Eero introduced its first router system last February. These Wi-Fi systems are suitable for large houses or offices that could typically should be served by multiple routers or Wi-Fi range extenders. To put it simply, they use multiple “nodes” that may communicate with one another, saving you the trouble of running wires or establishing and maintaining multiple devices, while ensuring a seamless end-user experience when you move in one section of the building to another.

Another important distinction with mesh networks is that nodes powering the network can speak to one another directly, therefore you can extend your network in virtually any direction. Rather than “hub and spoke” model where every satellite has to be within the number of the “main” router, you can daisy-chain nodes to one another. That is especially helpful if you want to cover large areas indoors and outdoors or manage walls and floors that typically block Wi-Fi signals. Of course, you nevertheless still need to truly have a base unit which will have your web line linked to it in order to hook up to the exterior world.

If your web connection is in a single corner of the home and you do not get the Wi-Fi signal at the other end, mesh networks could resolve this problem. Also, they are ideal for seamlessly extending your network later on – just put in a node to serve a supplementary floor or the patio which you added, and you are all set.

Today, we’ll be going for a closer consider the Netgear Orbi, which may be the company’s response to mesh routers like Eero and Google Wifi. Interestingly, the product wouldn’t have already been considered a pure mesh Wi-Fi solution till recently, as the extender nodes (called satellites, more on them shortly) couldn’t speak to one another directly. A recently available firmware update added an attribute called ‘support for daisy-chain topology’, that makes it easy for Orbi satellites to hook up to other satellites and also the base unit (which Netgear calls the ‘router’).

The model we have been testing may be the Netgear Orbi (RBK50) AC3000, that is a kit comprising one base router (model number RBR50) and one satellite (model number RBS50). Netgear’s website claims a variety of 5000 square feet for the complete setup, although retail box we got promised a far more modest selection of 350 sq. m. (roughly 3767 sq. ft). This is actually the top-end style of the Orbi lineup, the main one with the largest range, but understand that these mentioned figures will often have ideal conditions and buildings with wooden partitions at heart. If you are scanning this in India, you understand our concrete walls have killed many a tall claim with regards to signal strength and range. Let’s observe how Netgear’s flagship mesh Wi-Fi router performs in real life.

Netgear Orbi design and setup
Gone will be the days when routers were ugly and needed multiple antennas protruding to deliver almost any decent performance. Okay, those routers haven’t totally vanished from the facial skin of the planet earth, but thankfully, famous brands Eero, Google, and even Netgear have realised that networking equipment cannot continually be hidden away (particularly when you are discussing multi-room setups). With the Orbi devices, Netgear has made an attempt to create them blend to their surroundings.

Major rivals such as for example Google Wifi and Eero aren’t officially obtainable in India, so we haven’t any real-world experience to use for comparison, but a straightforward consider the dimensions of most the products confirms that the Orbi units are bigger compared to the others. At 8.9-inches high, 6.7-inches wide, and 3.1-inches thick, the units won’t specifically be invisible where you put them, which made us appreciate their aesthetics a lot more. Unlike most routers, we didn’t mind putting the Orbi inside our living room. Design is actually an extremely personal subject, though, which means that your thoughts and opinions varies.

Establishing your Orbi is easy enough, regardless if you aren’t technically savvy. As we explained earlier, the Orbi RBK50 involves two units – one is named the router, and the other may be the satellite. You should hook up the router to your existing Internet line, as the satellite goes into the “middle of your property” to find the best Wi-Fi coverage. For many people, starting out ought to be as simple as replacing a preexisting Wi-Fi router with the Orbi base unit. Be aware that (like the majority of routers), the Orbi doesn’t have an integral ADSL modem, which means you will need to hold on to your existing modem in the event that’s already part of your setup.

The Netgear Orbi (RBK50) AC3000 kit includes one router and one satellite

Follow the steps organized in the Quick Start Guide, so when you start to see the Orbi router’s LED light in white, it is time to start the satellite. Give it around three minutes, and if the light on the satellite turns blue, it signifies that it has established a wholesome reference to the router. If it turns amber, the bond is merely “fair”. A magenta colour indicates there is absolutely no connection, so you need to move the satellite nearer to the router.

Another steps involve establishing the Wi-Fi network, and you will do this with a PC or by downloading the Orbi iphone app on your own iOS or Android device. Aside from our review unit, we configured a few retail Orbi units for our relatives and buddies, and we found the procedure to be pretty painless each and every time.

Netgear Orbi performance and features
Netgear says that every Orbi unit has “six high-performance antennas with high-powered amplifiers”. The business also states that router is with the capacity of speeds as high as 3Gbps, but that is the total amount of data which can be flowing through the complete system at any moment, and the speeds you have on every individual device will, of course, be lower.

From the total available bandwidth, 1733Mbps is reserved for the backend communication between your Orbi units. The consumer-facing 5GHz channel is with the capacity of reaching speeds as high as 866Mbps using the 802.11ac standard, as the 2.4GHz channel includes a peak speed of 400Mbps using 802.11n. This ensures that while Netgear’s declare that that is a “tri-band” router is technically true, from your own perspective, the Netgear Orbi is very just dual-band.

In conditions of peak speeds in real life, obviously, you will require 802.11ac compliant devices to find the most out of the router. The Netgear Orbi supports both beam-forming and Multi-User, Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output (MU-MIMO) standards, though they are disabled out from the box, probably because some users have reported reliability problems with these settings enabled. However, we didn’t face any issues with all the router with both options enabled, and actually, performance regarding download and upload speeds improved significantly.

The ports behind the Netgear Orbi router. The satellite swaps the web port for a supplementary LAN port.

The Orbi creates both 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks with the same name, and if your device supports the latter, it will default compared to that frequency by default. Presently, there appears to be no chance to force the networks to use different names.

We create the Netgear Orbi in a 1750 sq. ft. duplex apartment throughout our review. We’d the router put in a room using one side of the home on the floor floor, with the satellite in an area on the other side of the house on the first floor. With this arrangement, the complete house was blanketed in Wi-Fi and there wasn’t an individual corner where we saw significantly less than full Wi-Fi bars on our cellular devices. This is a welcome differ from our earlier setup comprising an aging Apple AirPort Extreme employed in conjunction with an Airport Express, wherein connectivity using parts of the home was somewhat hit-or-miss. Indeed, the very best part of using the Orbi was the seamless and reliable blanket Wi-Fi coverage through the complete house.

We enjoyed our 100Mbps broadband line to the fullest on multiple devices, with a lot of room for future upgrades prior to the router’s speed starts to become a bottleneck, as it’s likely you have experienced for those who have an ageing router on an easy Internet line. At any moment, we’d ranging from ten and 20 devices linked to the network, and the Orbi hardly broke a sweat. Simple businesses such as for example copying large files in one machine to some other were much faster in comparison with our previous setup, but we didn’t come near the speeds that Netgear claims.

Using the Wi-Fi mapping utility NetSpot, we confirmed our Orbi network was with the capacity of wireless transmission at around 600Mbps over distances with a clear type of sight to the router, that is a lot nearer to the theoretical limit of the 5GHz channel. In conditions of everyday use, the router never felt such as a bottleneck, and we could actually stream video in 4K over Wi-Fi without the issues, despite having multiple devices linked to the network.

In conditions of features, the Orbi packs just about everything regular users would expect – guest network support; the opportunity to block certain sites and services (with scheduling); access control to blacklist/ whitelist devices; event logging and the capability to email logs; the opportunity to back up and restore settings; port forwarding/ triggering; dynamic DNS support; UPnP and IPv6 support; and an integral VPN server.

All this could be managed with a Web-based interface, plus some of this functionality can be exposed via the Orbi software for Android and iOS. You can view a set of linked devices in the iphone app and through a browser, and the former even enables you to ‘pause’ Internet connectivity of a particular device – ideal for when it’s time to create everyone research from their devices and also have a genuine conversation at dinner.

The Netgear Orbi app

Besides that, the Orbi software is pretty barebones right now, and you will have to touch base for your browser if you wish to tweak anything other name and password of your primary and guest Wi-Fi networks or look for a software update. Checking for firmware updates and installing them is pretty simple, and sometimes we noticed updates have been installed automatically, but on other occasions, we found new updates waiting to be installed. We would’ve liked to visit a bandwidth consumption metre for each and every linked device in a router of the class, given the FUP-ed up world we reside in. Remote management is available via the browser, however the option is switched off by default, since it ought to be. However, we couldn’t discover a method of prioritising certain kind of Internet traffic over others using the settings.

Each Netgear Orbi router has one WAN port and three Gigabit LAN ports, whilst every satellite has four Gigabit LAN ports. This implies you can place the satellite unit near a set-top box, desktop, or a casino game console and revel in Ethernet connectivity without running wires at home. Both likewise have a USB port that can be utilised to talk about devices on the network. Although router’s Web interface indicates the USB port can only just be utilized for sharing printers using Netgear’s ReadySHARE software, we linked a difficult disk to the router and could actually view its contents using Windows file sharing and via the Netgear Genie app. The Genie iphone app offers some extra features like traffic meter that may report your current Internet consumption and supposedly even gives iOS users the opportunity to print to any attached printer using AirPrint.

Many users on Netgear forums have complained about frequent connection drops with their Orbi units, but we didn’t face that issue. Initially, our smartphone would drop its Wi-Fi signal once every couple of days for two seconds and reconnect automatically, but recent software updates seem to be to have fixed that annoyance aswell.

Verdict
Overall, the Netgear Orbi may be the quickest, easiest, & most reliable way to cover a sizable area with constantly fast Wi-Fi that we’ve ever run into, though the actual speeds and range will change a lot according to the size of your neighborhood and how it’s built. Despite featuring state-of-the-art technology, it’s pretty simple to get started doing the Orbi, and it packs practically all the features that a lot of users would want in a router.

All of this, of course, comes at a cost. The Netgear Orbi (RBK50) AC3000 comes with an MRP of Rs. 35,990, though it’s usually offered by Rs. 26,999 on Amazon India. That is clearly a lot of cash to pay, in particular when you can aquire basic routers at under Rs. 1,000. As the old adage goes, you get everything you pay for. Most persons won’t need this sort of a router, but when you have a huge home, you cannot fail with the Netgear Orbi RBK50. When you are on a budget, Netgear India recently launched two more routers in the Orbi range that are made for slightly smaller homes and can continue sale at marginally lower prices later this month.

Pros

Great range
Excellent performance, especially over large distances
Easy to create