Netgear Orbi – Whole House Wi-Fi With A Twist

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My home network is terrible. I live in a townhouse that is long and narrow with four levels of space. It was built with metal studs and beams in the walls. That makes the Wi-Fi both inconsistent and nonexistent from floor-to-floor and front-to-back. A Wi-Fi extender doesn’t help either.

Netgear Orbi calls itself the first tri-band home Wi-Fi system and provides what’s known as a wireless mesh network throughout your home as multiple units communicate both with devices and each other to create seamless Wi-Fi coverage.

The Orbi comes as a two-unit system, one a router, and the other a satellite, and uses three radio bands: 2.4 GHz provides penetration and distance; 5 GHz is much faster but only for shorter distances; and a second dedicated 5 GHz band is only used to communicate between the router and satellite(s). Other mesh systems communicate with their “satellites” on the two regular bands, resulting in some signal loss.

The Orbi has four Ethernet and one USB 2.0 input on both the router and the satellite units so you can connect additional devices to your network, such as printers, Sonos sound systems, or Blu-ray players. The Orbi gives you added control with more in-depth settings than some of the other new mesh network products. It has, among other things, access control, parental control, port forwarding, and Dynamic DNS, similar to other higher-end Netgear routers. The Orbi also has automated firmware updates, WPS-protected setup, and you can create a guest Wi-Fi network that allows visitors on the Internet but with no access to your other devices.

The Orbi can be set up with any type of connected or mobile device. The directions are simple: unplug your modem for a reset; plug the Orbi router into the modem and a power source; plug your modem back in and wait for the LED ring on the top of the Orbi router to light solid white and then pulse white. You then place the satellite in the middle of your house, plug it into a power source and wait for the satellite’s LED ring to tell you if it is connecting properly. It will light up blue (good), amber (a so-so connection) or magenta (not good) and let you know if the placement is okay. There is a sync button on the back of the satellite to be pressed which connects it to the router. Then you visit the Orbi website from any device to finalize your name and password setup. The lights turn off when setup is complete. A “Genie” app for mobile devices and laptops keeps you connected to your network and any adjustments can be made from there.   

While the router setup was quick and easy, my satellite didn’t connect immediately and I had to repeat its setup. Since I brought a tablet a couple of flights downstairs with me, it only took a few minutes more. The instructions were clear and simple with easy to decipher photos.  

The Orbi has changed my life. No more dead zones. My home is 2,400 square feet with four levels, two decks, and a patio. I can now use Wi-Fi everywhere with the same speed and no drop-off in the signal from the router to satellite as I walk around the house, up and down the stairs and outside. I feel free.

This product is intended to hit all of the bells and whistles of a high-end router with easy setup, and it does. Although the price is on the high side at $379.99 on Amazon or elsewhere for a two-unit package, it is close to pricing for similar home Wi-Fi systems such as Eero, Luma, and Google Wi-Fi. However, you get many more features and a much higher-end system.     

On the negative side the units are are a little larger than I expected, about 12-inches high and 5-inches wide, larger than the Eero or Luma units. Netgear says this is because of the six high-performance antennas inside and that the two units should cover up to 4,000 square feet, depending on the construction of your house. The signal is diminished – as all Wi-Fi is – when trying to get through concrete walls or floors, or metal in the walls. Netgear claims the extra power of its antennas and amplifiers help their signals pass through more easily.

Netgear also offers the Orbi as a three-unit system: the router and two satellites, or you can purchase just the router (said to be good for 2,000 square feet of coverage), for about $250. Netgear is accepting pre-orders for additional satellite units, should you need them.

The Orbi system is pricey, but it performs as promised and was one of the best experiences I had setting up a wireless network.

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