router products are generally classified by three major performance characteristics: overall throughput or bandwidth, multi-client performance, and range. Although throughput and multi-client bandwidth has scaled-up nicely over the years, range perhaps hasn't improved quite as robustly and even the most powerful WiFi routers, like Netgear's own beastly Nighthawk X8
, with its active antennas, can still leave dead spots in large home or office installations. That's where the recent crop of mesh
router technologies, that startups like Eero and Google with Google WiFi
, are making significant advancements.
By spreading out multiple, interconnected router access points (as well as their antennas), across a WiFi network, you blanket the area with a stronger, more contiguous signal. If you need to go the distance, mesh WiFi routers are the new way to go and Netgear
is now entering the fray with a 3Gbps tri-band setup called Orbi.
If you've ever tried to solve the problem of WiFi range with a range extender, you've probably come to realize that the legacy technology just doesn't work that well. The reason is because most range extenders and repeaters rely on a single radio to transmit and receive data, effectively cutting the bandwidth in half. However, new home mesh network router technologies offer a sophisticated interconnect of multiple routers and as a result, multiple radios and antennas, to form a larger multi-radio WiFi network. Until now, this technology was usually employed in more expensive enterprise applications, and it was generally a complex setup. However, the latest generation of mesh router systems, like the Netgear Orbi, take the complexity and cost out of the equation, bringing the technology down to the consumer level.
That said, Netgear's Orbi is also different from other mesh network routers on the market currently, in a rather significant way.
Netgear Orbi Mesh WiFi Router System|
|Specifications & Features
||Simultaneous Tri-Band WiFi - 802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz + 5GHz 2x2 866Mbps
4x4 1733Mbps - Dedicated Backhaul between Orbi Router & Satellite
||Implicit & Explicit Beamforming for 2.4 & 5GHz bands
||Gigabit Ethernet: 1 WAN & 3 LAN for Router, 4 LAN for Satellite
||One (1) USB 2.0 port
||Six high-performance antennas with high-powered amplifiers
System kit of two covers homes up to 4,000 square feet with strong WiFi signals
Beamforming technology boosts range for the 802.11ac
MU-MIMO capable for simultaneous data streaming on multiple devices
||WPA-PSK/WPA2-PSK, WPA/WPA2, Wireless Security: Enable/Disable, WPS fast encryption
||Qualcomm 802.11ac chipset with Wi-Fi Self-Organizing Network (SON) technology
||4GB Flash, 512MB RAM
||6.67x 2.36 x 8.89 in each
||1 Orbi Router (RBR50), 1 6.5ft Ethernet cable, 1 12V/ 3.5A power adapter, Quick start guide
1 Orbi Satellite (RBS50), 1 12V/ 3.5A power adapter, Quick start guide
||$399 Currently On Amazon - One Base, One Satellite Kit|
As you can see above, we've got the usual litany of WiFi router network geek speak and specifications going on. The Netgear Orbi is an 802.11ac 3000 tri-band system with a total of 3Gbps of aggregate available bandwidth, along with the latest MU-MIMO
and Beamforming technologies for high performance, multi-device streaming. Specifically, (and illustrated in the pictorial above) each Orbi unit has a 2x2 400Mbps 2.4GHz channel, a 2x2 866Mbps 5GHz channel and a third 4x4 1733Mbps 5GHz channel, and that's where you get to its 3Gbps aggregate total. However, that third 1733Mbps 4x4 5GHz channel is where the magic happens - as the saying goes "baby's got back" - or rather a dedicated 5GHz backhaul channel.
Though the Orbi delivers robust auto-sensing and adapting 2.4GHz and 5GHz 802.11ac WiFi from its single standard base router unit, it's when you connect two or more of the systems together and employ that 5GHz backhaul channel that WiFi performance, over long range, really opens up. It's sort of like taking a 600 horsepower beast of a muscle car out on a quarter mile drag strip. Sure, she's got growl and torque, pouring through the twist and turns of a country back road, but where she really kicks it in gear is on the wide open straights.
Netgear Orbi base and satellite - yin and yang.
If that analogy doesn't ring true for you, we'll be more clear. The Netgear Orbi was designed to cover a longer range of wireless network area with a solid, high performance signal. Its max range noted in the spec table above is 4,000 square feet. If you're looking for a pretty, subdued WiFi router and have an smaller area of less than 2,000 square feet or so to cover (without many obstructions), a single Orbi unit will do the trick, but then again, so would any quality 802.11ac router. Where the Orbi excels is its scalability over distance, in conjunction with one or more Orbi satellites, to deliver full-bandwidth 5GHz and 2.4GHz WiFi coverage.
With that playing field and use case set. Let's look at the Netgear