Nowadays, it is difficult to live without Wi-Fi, as we have gotten used to having a wireless Internet connection in our homes and workplaces, becoming essential in many cases. Many devices can be connected to wireless networks and the technology keeps being improved in order to offer increasingly higher speeds that can even outshine the traditional wired networks.
Technologies like the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard allow us to have a wireless bandwidth of several Gbps. However, these technologies’ biggest enemy are great distances and walls, which reduce their range considerably.
Netgear’s Orbi system is a platform consisting of a router and a satellite used for increasing the Wi-Fi signal, allowing domestic users and companies to have a high-speed network with a great coverage that does not need having any technical knowledge and that is easy to set up.
There are several models, but the one that we have today for this review is the high-end RBK50 model. Its two devices provide a total range of 350 m², and it is compatible with the 4×4 tri-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard at 3,000 Mbps.
The first thing about the Orbi that caught our attention was its design: a spotless white oval structure with very clean lines and a texture that is quite pleasant to the touch, so both the router and the satellite fit really well anywhere.
The top of the Orbi has an oval lid that displays a discreet and elegant white LED light in the case of the router, but it can change colors in the case of the satellite depending on the connection.
The physical ports are half hidden in an opening at the back. The main router has three Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports and one WAN port to connect it directly to the router or cable modem providing the Internet connection. It also has the power and reset buttons, the power jack, a USB 2.0 port to connect peripherals such as printers, and a button to sync it manually in case we have any problems during the setup.
In terms of the satellite, it has the same physical ports, but its four ports are Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports, meaning that it does not feature a WAN port since that is the main router’s task.
As soon as you take the router and the satellite out of the box, Netgear tells us which is which with a sticker where we can see the default name of the network, its password and a QR code so we can establish a connection with it directly.
Even so, both devices can be distinguished visually by the color of the top lids, being white for the satellite and blue for the router.
The entire Orbi’s installation and setup process is explained step by step: the former through a small printed guide and the latter through a web assistant.
Basically, to create our new network we only have to turn on the Orbi router first until it shows a white LED light on the top, then we can connect it to the router or modem providing the Internet connection.
The next step is to connect the second Orbi device, the satellite, in a place far from the router (but not too far) in order for the signal to be well distributed. Once it is connected, the satellite will automatically search for the router to sync with it.
We can know what the sync status is by simply looking at the color of the LED light on top of the satellite: if it is blue, the connection is perfect and provides good coverage; if it is yellow, we will have to place the satellite and the router closer to each other; and if it is pink or magenta, the connection could not be established because of some problem or because the devices are too far away from each other.
Those colors will flicker for a while and then the satellite’s LED will turn off.
In case there is a problem when synching, pressing the Sync button at the back of both devices will start the sync process automatically. Everything went smoothly during our tests and we were able to sync them right away.
The Wi-Fi network that is created is the same for both devices, meaning that we do not have two different networks that the devices have to switch between to get the best signal automatically.
As soon as we connect our PC to the Wi-Fi network or an Ethernet port, Orbi’s setup page is automatically opened in the browser. In fact, if we want to get access to the configuration at any time, we just have to go to orbilogin.com.
Once the initial setup is displayed, the Orbi will detect the Internet connection, the type of network and the devices, such as routers or repeaters, that we have, and then it sets a configuration based on these data.
This process is completely automatic, although it can be done manually if we want to configure anything in the way we want to in this step.
Once the automatic configuration is finished, we can name the Wi-Fi network and create a different password if we want to.
That is all, we do not have to do anything else. We now have our Wi-Fi network created with a dedicated repeater to extend its coverage simply by connecting it and clicking next on the assistant. We did not have to use any IPs, DHCP servers, DNS or anything like that, as everything has been set up by Orbi based on how our local network was (which in our case consisted of a fiber modem, a router and another router that was connected to the Orbi).
This definitely is a wonderful system for any business or domestic user that wants to have a high-speed connection without any problem and without needing any prior knowledge.
Naturally, the Orbi also gives us access to all types of manual configurations, and we can do that via the web or its mobile app.
In fact, we have two additional types of configuration: a basic one for the simplest things, allowing us to set up the Wi-Fi network’s basic parameters (name, password, etc.), the printer configuration, the access to parental control via the app, the creation of a guest network that is independent of our network and the addition of more satellites to increase the range.
If we want to use certain configurations (like opening or forwarding a port, VPN, UPnP service, remote access to configuration and many more options for the most advanced users), we can also do it by going to advanced setup.
Netgear has managed to simplify the Orbi’s configuration process as much as possible, but that does not mean that we are not allowed to “mess around” with any option that we choose to set up the way we want to.
Coverage and performance tests
According to its specifications, this Orbi model is capable of covering up to 350 m² thanks to its router and satellite, and reach 3,000 Mbps of bandwidth with its three bands.
We have tested the devices by separating them and putting them in different rooms with all the doors closed.
In the screenshot below, we can see the signal quality when using the 5 GHz band (more speed but less range) for which the signal strength is around -73 dBm when far from the router, whereas the 2.4 GHZ signal (more range) remains at -66 dBm.
The repeater, which was closer to the measuring device, improved the signal strength to much higher values.
As for data transfer tests, we can see that if we transfer a file of about 10 GB from one PC to another while connected to the same router via Ethernet, the device offers data transfer speeds of about 115 MB/s, meaning that the 1,000 Mbps of the Gigabit Ethernet interface are being used.
If we connect the repeater via Ethernet, we can see that it remains stable at about 56 MB/s. We must bear in mind that, although we are connected to the repeater via Ethernet, the router and the repeater are connected wirelessly from different rooms.
If we establish a connection with the router via Wi-Fi while it is placed farther away, we get a data transfer rate of about 36 MB/s that goes up to 43 MB/s if we are closer to the repeater. We have to keep in mind that, although the Orbi is capable of providing 3,000 Mbps, that value is achieved by combining three bands with bandwidths of 400 + 866 + 1733 Mbps. It also depends on our device’s connection capacity, which in this case was a Galaxy S7 Edge that went up to about 600 Mbps.
Review and conclusion
We were really surprised by how easy it was to set up a local Wi-Fi network that could be extended with the Orbi devices. Not only is it easy to sync them (it is done automatically, as there is no need to even touch the Sync button), but also they are capable of both detecting our network’s setup along with its IP ranges, DNS and so on, and configuring themselves automatically without needing the user’s help.
These things, which may seem trivial to someone experienced in network configuration, make it easy for an advanced system of such a high speed and range like Netgear’s Orbi to be used by any person regardless of their technical knowledge.
As usual, the downside of this is that, although it looks simple on the outside, it really requires well-made hardware and software that make the Orbi expensive.
Even so, we must remember that for the price point of €427 we are getting a 3,000 Mbps neutral router with the 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard and a satellite that increases the router’s range and connection capabilities, all of this as part of a system that allows you to basically plug it to start using it. If we look separately for a router and a standard repeater capable of reaching those 3,000 Mbps, it may end up being more expensive for us and we may have to struggle with different configurations in order to get a perfect sync.
The Orbi is an advanced high-speed Wi-Fi network system perfectly suitable for someone who has barely used a PC for more than office tasks or web browsing in his entire life, but it also has the options and advanced settings for those who wish to control their network as much as possible.