Mesh WiFi has taken the spotlight over the last few years, and for good reason. When configured properly, a good mesh system is invisible to the end-user, and they get more consistent WiFi in more places of their house than they could before. Netgear was one of the first entrances into the consumer Mesh WiFi space with the first generation Orbi, and now they’re back with a smaller, less featured, but also a cheaper version, but is it any good? Read on.
- Easy Setup
- Great App
- Easy Expansion
- Each Satellite has smaller range
- Few Ethernet Jacks
Disclaimer: Netgear supplied us with this Orbi setup for the purposes of review. They have not financially supported us, nor have they got any say in the outcome of this review. This review is based on roughly 6 weeks of usage in a large 3 floor, 6 bedroom house from the 1880’s, with thick walls and radio-opaque organic plaster, a true torture test for wireless networking.
- 1 Orbi AC2200 Router RBR20
- 2 Orbi AC2200 Satellites RBS20
- Tr-Band WiFi capable
- MU-MIMO (Multiple User MIMO)
- 10/100/1000 Ethernet ports on Orbi Router and Satellites
- 4 internal antennas per device.
- Coverage up to 4500sq Feet
- Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant support.
- Disney “Circle” parental controls app included.
For a more comprehensive look at what the RBK23 setup offers, head on over to Netgear’s website here.
Hardware wise, the Orbi is actually quite pretty, which is one of the more important things. One of the reasons that people’s WiFi is usually quite bad, is that the router is ugly, so people hide it behind the couch or something, which hampers the device’s ability to spread radio waves throughout your house. With the Orbi, Netgear has designed these to look unassuming, blend into the other pieces of decor in your house, so that you don’t mind leaving it up on a shelf or on the weird table in the corner of the living room that has the landline and nothing else really.
This subtle piece of social engineering is really what helps the Orbi get over the biggest problem of people hiding it away. The Orbi Router is a slightly off-white extruded oval shape, wider at the base than the tip. It’s just over 14cm wide, 6.1cm deep and just under 18cm tall, these dimensions are also true for the Orbi satellites in the case of the RBS20. Up top the “lid” part if offset by a centimetre or two, allowing the embedded LED status ring to be visible, but not constantly blaring at you. In fact, under normal use, the Orbi has no status lights. Those only appear during setup or when something is wrong when all is going well, it simply turns the lights off. Neat!
On the back of the Orbi, it’s quite scant. There is the DC in jack, a barrel connector supplying 12v at 1.5a, which could have easily been replaced with a USB-C adaptor. Two RJ45 jacks, one for WAN and one for LAN, a power button and a sync button for synchronising the main Router with the Satellites.
Now yes, this means that the Orbi cannot act as the sole device in your internet setup, it does need to have a separate modem, Luckily, many aftermarket solutions exist, and even some ISP provided ones can be put into a modem mode. My ISP is BT, and my current setup is the BT Smart Hub (an ironic name as it is one of the worst pieces of kit I have ever used). And whilst BT doesn’t specifically allow you to put it into a modem only mode, I am able to shut off the WiFi AP part of the setup, and in turn, plug the Yellow “Internet” port of the Orbi into one of the RJ45 jacks of my Smart Hub. I cannot run through how it works on every router (note, I am using Router as an umbrella term for Routers, Switches, APs usually integrated into a single device) but do some Googling on your end and see if it is compatible with your kit.
The Orbi Satellites aren’t much different, except that Yellow “Internet” WAN Port is replaced by another simple ethernet port, allowing you to cable two devices (or a switch) up to each satellite such as a PC and a games console. Otherwise, it is the same, a power button and a sync button, with a DC in jack for 12v 1.5a, and that subtle LED status ring up top.
Once I had done the trickery of shutting off the Access Point of my BT Smart Hub, setting up the Orbi system was actually remarkably simple, though if I were to do it again I would have changed some things.
Initially, I set up the Orbi Router in my office, it is where the master phone line comes in, it’s where the main switch is and, well it’s my office. So I found out where I wanted to Orbi Router to go, and despite the short power cord, that was simple I plugged it in and saw the LEDs on top, so I went to the Google Play store and downloaded the Orbi App. I then went to the other room in the house I knew I wanted an Orbi node, so I placed a Satellite there, plugged it in, saw the LEDs and went to the next Room and repeated. This was my mistake.
Ideally, what I would have done is set up the two satellites in the same room as the Orbi router, just to make sure that everything was Okay, my network settings were okay and that I could connect, I was in a hurry and I paid for it.
What you should do is set up the main Orbi Router, and then in the same room plug-in one Orbi Satellite and watch for the LEDs on top, there are 4 colours: White, Blue, Magenta, Amber, and here is what they Mean.
- White: Everything is fine.
- Blue: Connection between Orbi Satellite and Orbi Router is good.
- Magenta: The Satellite can’t connect to the router, bring Satellite closer.
- Amber: The Satellite is connected to the Router, but barely, move closer if you can.
Ideally, as they are in the same room, they should go blue to white, and then as everything is fine, the lights should turn off after a few minutes. If for some reason the light is magenta, press the sync button on the back of the router and the satellite for a few seconds, this puts them both into a pairing mode, they should find each other, go blue, then white. Once the first Orbi Satellite is connected, leave it plugged in, and do the same with the second satellite until it too is connected.
Once you have all the devices connected, proceed to move each satellite into their respective rooms and wait for the LEDs the settle down. Hopefully, it is close enough to the Router that the first satellite just connects no issue, and then when you install the second Satellite, it actually connects to the first satellite.
What I did is place each one in the room individually, then have to rush up and down 3 floors and each room to look at the LEDs and then decipher then from the quick start guide. Seriously, Don’t do it the way I did.
What about the actual internet setup? Well, that was surprisingly simple. On your computer or phone, go into the WiFi settings and connect to the default SSID (WiFi name) the Orbi ships with (it comes on a little cover on the router) and then open up your favourite internet browser and head to Orbilogin.com, and from there on it, it’s a literal step by step process, checking if the new Orbi router can connect to the internet, seeing if your satellites are connected, then asks you to set up a new SSID (go on, have fun) and password and admin settings. Then if you want, you’re done.
You can then never touch the settings ever again if you don’t want to, technically your network is now done, but if you get the Orbi app, then you can do some more cool stuff. From within the app, you can do a speed test, which is handily provided by Ookla, the people behind Speedtest.net. You can check or change your WiFi settings, you can see what is connected and manually disconnect each device one by one if you feel like it. You can enable or disable the guest network and the respective settings and so much more.
The Orbi App has been crucial in my troubleshooting whilst I haven’t been at home. Whilst I was in Berlin for IFA, because I had set up remote management, I could securely log in to the setup from Berlin and check on the settings alter things and more, it was awesome.
Do you want something cooler? Or just nerdier perhaps? To Orbi can interface with Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant, meaning you can shout “Alexa, enable guest network” when your in-laws are over for the weekend, or “Alexa, what’s my WiFi status” if you’re just interested, Or you can simply just ask Alexa to reboot your router if something doesn’t seem right, something like this is a godsend for a lazy person like me who has Echos and home Minis all over the place.
This is where things get slightly less positive, but not in the way that you’d expect.
The Orbi didn’t cure my WiFi woes, but it got really close. My house is just too large for this version of the Orbi. you see the RBK23 is the smaller Orbi with the smaller satellites, designed for smaller homes. My home, on the other hand, is from the 1880’s, so it is large, with walls that are solid brick and plaster. That plaster is mostly horsehair plaster, which is organic, which blocks radio signals. On top of all that, it is just a physically large house with 3 floors, so even with a satellite on every floor, the Orbi was struggling, but I think that is because this is the smaller Orbi.
Had our walls not been what amounts to a nuclear bunker, I’m almost certain this Orbi would have been able to fix all our issues, but due to that issue, it solved about 95% of them. What the Orbi did, is that it boosted signal in weaker areas of the house, such as one of the bedrooms on the far side of the house (opposite from the old router) and gave signal (albeit weak signal) to areas that previously had none, such as the kitchenette on the top floor and parts of the garden.
My speeds when using the Orbi were actually pretty great. It’s an AC2200 system, so two bands (5Ghz) covering 866Mbps and one band (2.4Ghz) covering another 400Mpbs. When in the office I was basically getting what we pay our ISP for and what we’re able to receive (76/19 is what we pay for, 67/19 is practically what we get delivered) and the people close to the Satellites were getting in the high 40’s to mid 50’s which is far better than the sub 10mbps they were receiving before when using either a WiFi booster or just the old router on it’s own. When plugged into the Ethernet of the main Orbi Router, I was receiving peak speeds, and surprisingly, the person on the first node was getting similar speeds, which made them incredibly happy.
At the end of the day, I’m sure I could remedy my issues by buying another satellite or two, which the ORbi system allows me to do, heck, I could even add the new satellites from within the app!
So, how has my time with the Netgear ORbi (RBK23) been? Honestly, pretty great. Coming from an ISP supplied Router/Modem/AP combo, this is night and day, but even aside from that, as we used to have a properly managed network at home (Dad was a networking nerd) this was far more painless, and far more powerful in the long run. Do I need my router to be able to speak to my Home assistant? No, but I’m not going to turn it off, because there are times when it’s been useful. What about the smartphone app? I wouldn’t give that up either. Netgear provides a lot of functionality into this package, and I think it is worth what Netgear is asking.
What are they asking you ask?, well this RBK23 system is £289 on Amazon right now, and that is not inexpensive, but when you put it in line with other mesh systems, or just some high-end routers on its own, Netgear does come out with the cost advantage here. So at the end of the day, I’m going to continue using my Orbi system, I’m going to keep enjoying it, and I’m going to recommend it to people that need an inexpensive (relatively) Mesh system for their home, hopefully, it’s just a bit smaller than mine.