The single most important thing to keep all our connected home, computing and entertainment technology working well is a strong internet signal. With all the connected devices a typical household has competing for bandwidth, it is important to have a great router to optimize your Wi-Fi signal. As we place more and more demands on our home Wi-Fi system we need better routers to keep up with the demand for bandwidth. Luckily, router technology is keeping pace with our increasing demands and companies like NETGEAR are constantly updating and improving their routers. Mesh WiFi solutions have become popular in 2016 as a way of improving home WiFi connectivity. A Mesh WiFi network is a group of routers connect wirelessly to provide a single Wi-Fi network that covers the home. I recently had the opportunity to test NETGEARs new Mesh Network solution the Orbi Home WiFi system.
The Orbi Home Wi-Fi system is designed to meet high demands for Wi-Fi connectivity, and comes with a base unit and a satellite. Orbi is a mesh Wi-Fi system with a difference- it is the world’s first Tri-Band Wi-Fi system that has one channel dedicated exclusively to connecting the router base unit to its satellite. What this means in practical terms it is delivers fast internet speeds without dead spots over a 4,000 square foot area. It is a flexible system as you can add more satellites if you have a home larger than 4,000 Sq. Ft, or if you have a small home you can use the Orbi base unit without a satellite.
My home has a very challenging layout for a WiFi system – it was originally a tiny beach cottage that was later expanded to a family home. This creates a rather unusual home layout, that wasn’t designed with good Wi-Fi reception in mind! The direct line of sight from the router to master bedroom passes through the garage, front walkway and multiple indoor and outdoor walls. As you can imagine this presents a challenge to getting a useable signal in the master bedroom. Compounding the problem, we live a long way from our DSL hub so our incoming signal is weak too. Originally we were unable to get any WiFi signal in the master bedroom at all, but when we upgraded to the NETGEAR Nighthawk X8, which we reviewed earlier this year, we were able to get a useable signal in that room, but one that was still significantly weaker than in the rest of the house. I was interested to see how the Orbi dealt with this challenge, and how its performance compared to the Nighthawk X8.
Right out of the box Orbi looks different than a standard router- it has no external antennae and is a simple, white, elliptic cylinder. Although it is quite tall (approximately 9in high) it has a much smaller footprint than our previous router, which I like as it takes up much less counter space. The box contains the router base unit and satellite, 2x power adapters and an ethernet cable. The router base unit and satellite look very similar, but are labelled so you can easily tell them apart.
Orbi is incredibly easy to set up. You reset your modem by switching it off and on and use the included ethernet cable to attach the modem to the yellow internet port on the Orbi router. Plug in the Orbi and switch it on. When Orbi is ready its LED ring on the top lights solid white then pulses white.
Next you place the Orbi satellite in your preferred location, plug it in and switch on. Again its LED ring glows white, then pulses white. Then the satellite’s LED will pulse magenta (for up to a minute.) Next the satellite LED will light up a solid color for 10 seconds before the LED switches off. Blue= good connection, amber= fair connection, magenta= unable to connect. I set the satellite up in our master bedroom fully expecting an amber or red light, I was totally shocked when it immediately turned blue! This is huge for us- although we have had signal in this room before, it has never been a strong signal, and even placing a Range Extender in the room it has always shown only a weak connection to the router. The signal just punched through indoor and outdoor walls, a garage and outdoor space!!
Finally you go onto your computer or mobile device and connect to Orbi (via WiFi or ethernet cable), and visit orbilogin.com and follow the online instructions to complete your network set up. Orbi’s LED light goes off when set up is complete. Orbi comes with a pre-set network name and password which you can change if you wish.
Wired Connections and WPS
If you have devices, such as game consoles, that you would like to connect to your router via ethernet cable, Orbi provides plenty of opportunities to do so. The Orbi base station has 3 LAN ethernet ports (plus a WAN for connecting to internet) and the satellite has a further 4 LAN ethernet ports.
The sync button also acts as a WPS (WiFi Protected Setup) button which allows you to quickly connect wirelessly to any device with a WPS function. I had one hybrid tablet that for some reason was having difficulty accepting the WiFi password so I switched to WPS connection and it connected in a few seconds.
The Orbi works with the NETGEAR Genie app to allow you to control what can be accessed on your network. You can set up different levels of filtering for different times of day, and can set up user profiles that have different restrictions than the overall filtering level. You create user profiles for each family member that you want to have a personalized filtering level. Then install the NETGEAR Genie app on their computer or mobile device and wen they are logged in the custom filters apply. This way you set up the whole house filter at the level you want for the kids and create profiles for mum and dad that allow them less restrictive filtering.
I have been really impressed with how well Orbi works. In an approximately 3,000sq.ft home, with a difficult layout over 3 staggered floors, we get great signal everywhere. It really is very simple to set up- the different colored LED light during the set up phase make it so simple to know where you are in the installation process. Once it is set up it just works really well! We have a relatively weak incoming signal due to living a long way from a DSL hub so getting good internet performance is always going to be a challenge. In the past, with a good router such as the NIghthawk X8, we have managed to get a decent signal on the same floor as the router and a useable signal elsewhere in the house but there have been noticeable differences in internet speed in different locations. Now it doesn’t matter where we are in the house we get similar speeds everywhere.
In the past we have used range extenders to improve the signal in hard to reach areas of the house – whilst this helps it is an awkward solution that involves switching to different networks in different parts of the house and our devices always seem to prefer to connect to the weaker network! The Orbi router and satellite create a single high speed network where your devices can move between bands and to different parts of the house without ever having to reconnect. As you move around the house your devices automatically switch to whichever unit is giving you the best signal, and it is all part of the same network – no having different networks in different parts of the house. I love that I don’t have to think about where I am in the house when doing bandwidth heavy tasks, and that I don’t have to constantly check if I’m connected to the right network when using a Range Extender.
I tested our internet speeds using the Ookla Speedtest on my MacBook Pro, both with a direct wired connection to the router and with a wireless connection in a variety of locations around the house, including the places where we have had the most signal problems in the past. We are getting consistently around 15Mbs download 0.9Mbs upload speeds anywhere I test in the house. This may not seem especially impressive, but as I mentioned we have a weak incoming signal- when I tested the speeds with a wired connection I also got average speeds of 15Mbs download 0.9Mbs upload ! With the X8 I had similar performance close to the router, but in the difficult to reach areas of the house speeds were much slower.
I love how the Orbi has eliminated Wi-Fi dead spots from my home, even in hard to reach areas where the signal has to go through interior and exterior walls. It is very quick and easy to set up, looks stylish enough that I’m happy to have it on display rather than hidden away and works wonderfully. I didn’t think I could get a WiFi solution that would give me a consistent WiFi signal everywhere in the house that was as fast as my incoming network signal but Orbi has achieved it ! Highly recommended.
Available from Amazon, Best Buy and other retailers RRP US$399
NOTE: A product was supplied by the company for review purposes, no other form of compensation was received, all opinions stated in the review are those of the author and have been offered honestly. The iMums are NETGEAR Ambassadors.
Mary is originally from England but now lives in California with her husband, dog, cat and three children. Mary and her family love Apple products and own an iPad2, iPad3, iPad Mini, iTouch, iPhone5 and several MacBook Pros. They also love cub scouts, skiing, camping and hiking. The family iPads are also used for therapy for their daughters Apraxia (speech disorder).