Just before Christmas I got my hands on the all new Netgear Orbi router and their new satellite extenders which work hand in hand with each other.
This is no ordinary router, nor does it look like a traditional router, in fact it looks more like a stylish semi cylindrical speaker, that can be placed anywhere in a home without compromising the aesthetics.
What’s more it’s made from high quality matt plastic that looks like opaque glass, unlike the new Linksys Velop router which looks like a simple white plastic box.
So, what’s the big difference with this router?
The guts of this router is built around new high speed mesh networking technology.
The Orbi system comprises one router that you plug into your broadband (via its Ethernet WAN port), and a second “Satellite” router that you, ideally, place in the middle of your home to extend the coverage.
The router and Satellite communicate via a dedicated 1,733Mbits/sec, 802.11ac 5GHz network (the network backbone, to use the technical term).
To serve connected devices, each Orbi component additionally has an 866Mbits/sec 802.11ac 5GHz network and a 400Mbits/sec 2.4GHz network.
The idea is that your devices connect to which ever node is nearest them, and if that’s the Satellite, the high-speed backbone should ensure that there’s no slowdown in Wi-Fi speeds.
The backbone also means that there’s room for expansion: you can simply buy additional Satellite devices to expand your network further around your home.
For example, the new Linksys Velop router which will not reach Australia until March needs two additional extenders to deliver the same Wi Fi coverage as one Orbi satellite extender.
The Velop is also poorly designed when compared with the Orbi.
In most homes, today Wi Fi has become a critical part of the infrastructure, it only has to go down, for one to realize how dependent we have become on Wi Fi to deliver data, music and TV programs let alone security and other key essentials.
At the same time, weak Wi-Fi is a pain in the backside, which is why it pays to fork out that little big extra on top end Wi Fi kit.
Dead spots, unreliable connections and slow speeds are common problems with a lot of systems.
The unlock key to getting strong Wi Fi connectivity can be found in the new Netgear Mesh network.
At CES 2017 the CEO of Netgear Patrick Lo explained to me the importance of getting both the front and back channels capable of delivering blisteringly fast speeds.
He said “The main router is equipped with six internal antennae that provide 3×3 MU-MIMO connectivity for suitably equipped computers and mobile devices,”
“There are three Gigabit Ethernet ports, along with a USB 2.0 port for connecting a printer or external storage device. And there’s a fourth Ethernet/LAN port that can be used to connect the Orbi to an existing modem or router in order to provide Internet access.”
He says the Orbi’s satellite unit is similarly configured, although it allows all four of its Ethernet ports to be used for wired connections.
I set the Orbi and Satellite up in a two-level house. The Satellite was set up on one level several meters away with the signal having to travel through two brick walls.
Set up was extremly easy.
All I did was connect the router and satellite to power, I then connected my Orbi router to my Telstra connection. Within seconds the router was looking for the first satellite.
The set-up process which is via a web based wizard was over within six minutes. Settings are synchronized between the router and satellite automatically, so you only have a single network in your home.
What was interesting was when we unplugged the Satellite, while the signal strength dropped but I still got excellent coverage direct from the Orbi router.
The only problems we encountered was third party product related. A ring doorbell that operated on the Netgear X10 refused to recognize the Orbi we also had problems with an attached security camera.
In the end, I had to totally reset the Ring doorbell from scratch before it finally worked.
Under the bonnet, you will find port forwarding, dynamic DNS settings and Netgear’s web filtering technology.
On the back is three Gigabit Ethernet ports for wired devices, you can also attach an Ethernet cable to the Satellite, I attached a 65 4K UHD TV to the Satellite which I located behind the TV despite it’s good looks. This allowed me to easily stream 4K content direct to the TV.
Two major milestones have been reached with the Netgear Orbi, firstly the device is extremly stylish with the prior traditional design for routers truly banished to a back room.
Secondly this device is fast though not as fast as the new X10, that review will come shortly.
Right now, this is the best home router and extender kit out there. While expensive you do need to weigh up the value proposition. It’s like buying a Ford Falcon when you can buy a BMW M4.
While both deliver connectivity, it’s the top end model that delivers performance.