Orbi RBK13: Lilliputian Mesh Networking

The Orbi Wi-Fi mesh system has been something or a turning point in consumer networking for Netgear. Their mesh networking not only provides networking solutions for all budgets but usually delivers the performance that is required, depending on the number of satellites and placement. It’s also known for being quite expensive. Enter the Orbi RBK13 system; 3 satellites, covering over 3,000 square feet, for under £140.

Orbi RBK13
+ FOR
  • Very small and easily concealed
  • Good throughput
- AGAINST
  • Lacks dedicated backhaul
  • No LAN ports on satellites
  • Optimum placement is an art

Buy on Amazon UK – £139

I can’t stress this enough that for most people, Wi-Fi mesh systems are the best option for a medium-sized house. The idea of having pockets of Wi-Fi throughout your house, all connecting to the same network name (SSID) is what most families will be looking for. A plug and play solution is the best, and that is what the Orbi system from Netgear looks to deliver.

Before we get in to just how well it manages that, let’s take a look at some of the specifications and accessories in the box.

Orbi RBK13

I opted for the RBK13 system which comes with 1 router (RBR10) and 2 satellites (RBS10), and Netgear says that this can deliver full Wi-Fi coverage to a house smaller than 4,500 square feet. From this setup, you can expect speeds of up to 1.2Gbps, but this is theoretical, not actual.

In the box, you get the 3 units, all of which are small box-shaped units measuring just 4.1 x 4.1 x 2.7 inches. These units can easily be hidden in most people’s living room. The white design also allows the Orbi RBK13 to fit in with most aesthetics.

The rear of the Orbi router houses 2 ethernet ports, one for Internet/WAN connectivity and the other for LAN. Next to these ports sit a power port, reset switch and a sync button. The latter is used to ensure the satellite is connected to the router effectively when adding for the first time. The satellites themselves have only power, reset and sync button.

Orbi RBK13

Specifications & Features

  • Orbi AC1200 Router & Satellites (866 + 400Mbps)
  • Simultaneous Dual-band WiFi
    • Radio 1: IEEE 802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz–256-QAM support
    • Radio 2: IEEE 802.11a/n/ac 5GHz–256-QAM support
    • Tx/Rx: 2×2 (2.4GHz) + 2×2 (5GHz)
  • IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
    • MU-MIMO capable of simultaneous data streaming
    • Implicit & Explicit Beamforming for 2.4GHz &
      5GHz bands
  • Processor – Quad-core 710MHz processor
  • Memory – 256MB flash and 512MB RAM
  • Antenna – Two (2) high-performance internal antennas each
  • Ports – Orbi Router – Two (2) 10/100/1000Mbps Gigabit Ethernet ports
  • Push Button WPS and SYNC support
  • Security – Comprehensive anti-virus & data theft protection
    • Standards-based WiFi Security (802.11i 128-bit AES encryption with PSK)
  • Voice Control – Amazon Alexa / Google Assistant

Performance & Use

Let us start with just how the Orbi RBK13 maintains connectivity. The dual-band Wi-Fi system means clients can connect on either 2.4Ghz or 5Ghz bands on both the Router and the Satellites. The router maintains the connection to the satellites over those same bands, with no dedicated backhaul, or connection, to keep them synced. More expensive Orbi setups and other mesh products will deliver “Tri-Band” solutions which utilise a separate radio to pass data between the units. For small homes, where the Orbi RBK13 is intended to be used, this presents no issues.

Orbi RBK13

Setup

The Orbi RBK13 system, rated at 1.2Gbps, didn’t get anywhere close to that as expected. I managed to get 910Mbps (only 866 shown here as I had to reinstall the app!) when sitting around 2 feet away from the router. Not the full rated speed, but good enough.

Setting up the Orbi RBK13 was relatively easy. Following the steps in the Orbi app was simple and straightforward. To start with, plug in the router and the satellites, connect the ethernet cable from your ISP’s router, and power everything on. Use the Orbi application to set Wi-Fi passwords and network names, sync the configuration to the satellites and away you go.

Admin Interface

Power users will be thankful for the web interface available here. More nuanced settings such as daisy chaining, wireless radio channels, and security can be accessed more granularly from the web interface.

Both the web interface and the app shows the status of the Wi-Fi setup. There are a few screens allowing users to analyse the link speed, which router/satellite the client is connecting to, as well as plotting wireless speeds across the house. This last part, whilst simple, is very effective in helping the novice user understand where to place their satellites.

Satellite Placement

Netgear suggests a minimum distance of 30-feet between satellites for maximum effectiveness, and I concur. Having satellites too close to the main router (or each other) can cause excessive handover which in turn leads to less than ideal Wi-Fi experience.

In my setup, I ended up using just one router and one satellite to cover a rather large UK semi-detached house. Adding in the second satellite caused the original satellite to report “poor” signal back to the router. Be mindful of this when placing the satellites.

I had particular problems in terms of placement of them. I don’t have a massive house or a small house, but I wanted to maintain the same speed throughout, on one SSID. In theory, the Orbi RBK13 should perform this task easily. In practice, it was a little more difficult to achieve. Whilst I managed to maintain speed in Internet speed tests (such as Speedtest.net or Fast.com), accessing local network resources was a mixed bag. Streaming from our Plex media server, accessing SMB shares and more all suffered occasional dips in performance. This was seemingly due to the aforementioned excessive handover. My clients would randomly connect to the router on the 2.4Ghz band, and then within 15 minutes would be sitting on one to the satellites on the 5Ghz band.

Final Thoughts

Orbi RBK13

The Orbi RBK13 is a great option, for the price, for those with small to medium homes, but there’s a caveat. The point of these solutions is to be simple to set up, as well as effective to use. Whilst that can be the case, it depends entirely on your unique home, router placement, wall thickness and more. The Netgear forums will show that whilst the units are incredibly speedy, there are many people who had to dig a lot deeper into settings to get stable Wi-Fi performance.

Once the positioning is nailed, performance is assured. I did bemoan the lack of a dedicated backhaul (ethernet or wireless) between the devices. The lack of any ethernet ports on the satellite is also a nuisance. The latter would extremely advantageous for anybody who likes wired connectivity to smart devices not housed directly adjacent to their router.

Your mileage might vary, but I can recommend the Orbi RBK13 setup to novices and power users alike. Just be aware that more tinkering might be needed to get the optimum from the units.

About Craig Bradshaw

Tech enthusiast and Editor-in-Chief of MobileTechTalk

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