Orbi Mesh networking system (RBK50)

Networking tends to be one of those “you get what you pay for” deals. And yes, the Orbi is a lot of money. But, staying with the theme, it’s terrific, and I highly recommend it if your normal router struggles for coverage or signal strength.

We live in a “difficult” apartment. Not sure why it’s difficult given it’s quite small, but it is. Normal (i.e. ISP-supplied routers) don’t even get a signal from the upper floor to the lower one, which is where the office is. High-end routers worked – we had an ASUS RT-AC68U most recently until it karked it – but not all that well. My wife is constantly downloading firmware patches and updating devices, streaming video, running webinars, uploading safety copies of presentation files to Dropbox for when she’s interstate giving presentations and running training courses and so on. Often we would have to download the patch or file to the desktop upstairs then push it across the network to downstairs, then move it to the device that required it, as trying to do that via WIFI from downstairs would often have the process simply fail long before the (very slow) completion. Not fun, and wasted a lot of time.

Enter the Orbi. I did a solid amount of research before purchasing, and the Orbi was the most recommended (it also has some people reporting issues, mainly the satellite losing sync, but they don’t appear to be current). I was tempted by the Google mesh system, mainly because of the cost, but despite having three points compared to the Orbi’s two, it was consistently ranked far worse. (Also, will Google decide in a year or two that they’ve had enough of mesh networking and just drop it? History says there’s a fair chance.)

The first thing you notice about the units is their size. These are big units (170 x 79 x 226 mm/900g). But they do look decent. Not sure I’d go as far as some and describe them as “attractive furniture” but they are a thousand times better than the router you’ve most likely got now.

Setup is easy, but it’s important not to rush it. When I first plugged the satellite in downstairs, after a couple of minutes of it not giving me the “connected” signal via the coloured LED ring atop the device I assumed the worst and took it upstairs to get it closer to the router. The key is to leave it at least three minutes, apparently, and once I’d discovered that, I took it back downstairs, set it in motion, went off and did something else and came back to it working perfectly. (Yeah, I’m badly ADHD, so three minutes of waiting is like an eternity.) The phone app that guides you through the setup (browser will do this too) is likewise excellent.

Gotta love the ethernet ports on the satellite

We run a mix of wired and wireless devices here, and so a heap of ethernet ports looked to be a good thing (the router port from the modem is yellow and labeled, so that’s easy too). The ports turned out to be a GREAT thing, in reality – my wife has a (brand new) Dell laptop that is her main work computer in the downstairs office, and it struggled mightily with the previous router (as did the more rubbishy laptop that preceded it) even when it was upstairs near the unit. It clearly has a very poor (read “cheap”) WIFI chip in it, as it still didn’t go all that well even with the Orbi nearby, but once we ran an ethernet cable from the satellite to the Dell it was perfect. Other devices downstairs (Surface Pro, Android phones, iPads, many different, constantly-changing AAC (Augmentative/Alternative Communication) devices, etc) have all shown significantly-improved signals and download speeds since the Orbi was installed. The RBK50 backhaul clearly works a treat.

The only real setup issue I had was with the XBOX, which decided it wasn’t going to slum it with a 10. network address for the gateway and insisted on keeping trying the old 168. address from the previous router. Once I manually set it up (pretty easy for most) it’s been great.

Some people think this is some sort of massively-expensive range extender, but it’s far from that. It runs a completely separate backhaul channel that is completely separate from the standard device-available 5GHz and 2.4GHz bands, so it doesn’t cripple your speeds as the range-extenders do. (It’s still 5GHz, but not part of the main 5GHz band, so don’t be confused by the browser page when you’re looking at that.)

Speaking of the diagnostics, you log into it via your browser as per almost all routers, and the information and setup options are all excellent, as is the phone app, which can do a lot of the setup work, share your guest network via a QR code, and so on.

The devices will automatically update themselves when a new security patch arrives, but how long Netgear keep supplying these once a new model arrives is anybody’s guess.

Overall, it’s a terrific device and I highly recommend it if you can work out how to afford it.

Here’s the main article I used to make the purchasing choice, but I did also read a lot of others.

I bought this from Officeworks, which was a complete PITA as an experience (which they clearly don’t give rat’s about), but I ended up getting it done.

Update May 06: Still awesome, still highly recommended.

Update August 11: Still awesome, still highly recommended.

One thought

  1. I knew, when I started reading this article, you had read the Wirecutter article, because that was the same one I read that *almost* made me buy this. But in the end, I’m too influenced by Paul Thurrott, and bought the Google wifi.

    https://www.thurrott.com/smart-home/135174/google-wifi-review

    Actually, I have a unique situation, where I have an outdoor studio I wanted to get a strong wifi signal to, so I thought the three unit setup would suit me better.

    I agree with this statement:
    “(Also, will Google decide in a year or two that they’ve had enough of mesh networking and just drop it? History says there’s a fair chance.)”

    That was a concern of mine, but I guess we’ll see. Honestly, I tend to switch out routers every couple of years anyway, so maybe Google will make the decision for me.

    Thanks for this VERY detailed review. I appreciate the information!

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