The Netgear Orbi is a new take on the home WiFi router. Rather than a monolithic all-powerful unit it uses a main router and a second hub router to better help distribute the WiFi signal throughout your home.
Now this general concept isn’t anything new. You have of course been able to buy conventional WiFi extenders for years while there are a number of alternative multi-router or mesh systems such as those from Ubiquiti, Eero and even Google.
However, the Orbi system has three key features that make it arguably the single best solution of the lot for typical large homes.
The first is that unlike most other mesh router systems, the Orbi router and hub aren’t modestly powerful, single or dual-band units. Instead each is a proper high-end tri-band router, with four Ethernet ports for connecting wired devices and a USB port for sharing printers and hard drives.
Netgear Orbi video review
This means that you don’t end up having to buy three or four or five units to scatter all throughout the house like with some mesh systems, but can rely on having just the two devices.
This leads to the second key feature of this setup which is that one of those three WiFi bands is dedicated solely to communication between the router and the hub. Leaving the other two bands on each router to be continually available for communication to all your devices.
This means that you don’t have one of the key problems with most wifi extenders and some mesh systems, which is that they rely on a single WiFi band to talk to your router and then to your devices. By constantly having to switch between the two this greatly reduces the overall speed and reliability of the connection.
The third advantage is that like other mesh systems but unlike most WiFi extenders, the Orbi uses a single SSID for all your WiFi connections. So even though you’ve got effectively four WiFi signals that could be available to a device, you’ll only ever see one name and the router and hub will decide which band is the best for you to use at any given time.
In contrast with some dual-band extenders you can end up with all four SSIDs to choose from.
What’s more, all this requires almost no setup. The Orbi router and hub come as a matched pair so you just plug them in and away you go.
And how does it perform? Well, I setup the Orbi in a typical British three storey brick built home with the router connected downstairs at one side of the building where the phone line comes in then placed the hub in the middle of the middle floor. For comparison I also installed the Netgear R7800, which is the faster dual-band router I’ve tested, in the same downstairs position.
Note that this being a dual-band router doesn’t mean it’s in anyway at a disadvantage as the Orbi is effectively running in a dual-band mode. And indeed, the R7800 will happily beat the Orbi for overall speed in close range tests.
The real test though is how they perform at range, so I tested overall throughput in three different locations. On the middle floor towards the back of the house and on the top floor in one room at the front of the house and one at the back.
And boy did the Orbi show its worth. In the middle floor room the R7800 held its own, managing an decent average of 226Mbps. But the Orbi managed 426Mbps.
Moving upstairs the R7800 dropped to just 161Mbps in one room and 105Mbps in the other. Meanwhile the Orbi could still manage 357Mbps and 261Mbps respectively.
What’s more the connection to the R7800 was noticeably more prone to dropping out or slowing down in those top two rooms.
So the Orbi works, but are there any drawbacks?
Well, the first potential stumbling block is price. A router and hub combo costs £350, which is well it’s about the cost of two conventional high-end tri-band routers.
That may seem a ludicrous amount but if you need the coverage, you need the coverage, and it compares favourably to other mesh router systems. Most of those come with three routers for a similar price but each unit is lower power and has far fewer features.
That said, if you have a particularly large home or office building then you will likely still need to buy even more hubs to get full coverage. In which case one of the other mesh systems might suit you better. Although you can add more hubs to the Orbi network, each is more expensive, you may not always need all the features each offers and you start to lose the advantage of the dedicated band anyway.
Meanwhile, as compared to conventional routers, some may not like that you can’t separate the single SSID of the Orbi back out into individual SSIDs for each band, and in fact the overall menu system is relatively basic. There’s far more on offer here than any other mesh system but not as much as Netgear’s Nighthawk range, for instance.
As for other solutions, some combination of a router, powerline networking and wifi extenders can get the job done but it’s a lot more hassle.
So, all told, the ease of setup, the convenient one SSID connection, and the sheer performance and features on offer means that for your typical large home the Orbi is just about the ideal WiFi solution.