Have a look around and you can probably find the router you use to connect your computer to the internet. Chances are it’s a bit dusty and possibly covered up or hidden. Chances are also good that it was given to you or you bought it from your ISP, you set it up and then haven’t thought about it since. Over the years there have been better and better solutions available if you were willing to put in the time and money to implement them but up until recently they’ve all needed a certain amount of technical ability and most people simply haven’t had that.
So what does the Orbi do? The basic kit consists of two squashed cream cylinders. One plugs into your modem (which you switch away from wifi router mode) and the other goes towards the other end of your house. The Orbi takes over controlling your network and using a different radio frequency than wifi lets the two units talk to each other. Plug it in, set it up and the wifi in your house gets faster and crucially covers a much wider area.
Exactly how much improvement you get is hard to quantify. Netgear says the single router covers up to 2,000 square feet or 185 square metres and each extra satellite adds another 2000 square feet. The problem is that that’s under ideal conditions. The location of your base station, what sort of walls and floors you have, the shape of your house, interference and many other things make a difference. In my case we’ve a fairly standard 1950’s semi detached house that’s a bit longer than most. The modem is at one end and with our old Superhub we got good signal in that room and okay signal in the next room along on the ground floor and the bedroom above. The other two bedrooms got intermittent signal and the kitchen at the opposite end of the house got none.
I setup the Orbi completely without tweaks and the base unit in the dining room and we’ve now excellent signal in every room. I was able to push the satellite a little further away from the base station so that we also now get wifi signal outside on the driveway – great to let me tie in security cameras.
Price: ± £369 for one base station and one satellite
Paid Included: All cables including a 2m ethernet connector cable included.
Paid extra: A single extra satellite (total of two satellites and one base) can be added although this doesn’t seem to be available in the UK yet.
Netgear is a very well known American network technology manufacturer. You probably know them best for their home hubs and wifi routers, but they’re a major supplier to industry as well and make a range of network connected devices like NAS (Network Hard Disks), firewalls and security cameras. They were set up in 1996 and have just over a thousand employees spread around the world. We reviewed their Arlo Q camera last month and gave it a recommended rating.
The Orbi base station and satellite station look surprisingly attractive. The off white cream color fits well into a neutral color scheme and the branding isn’t in your face. Unlike most older wifi hubs it doesn’t have a number of blinking LEDs but instead has a single LED ring around the top which can be turned off if needed. All the cables come in and out of the back of both of the Orbi’s and I found the cables easy to hide.
Setup for network technology is always somewhat worrying and finding problems can be a nightmare. I’m a Virgin Media customer and I normally use a Superhub 2.0 but contrary to my worries the whole process was very simple. Switch the Superhub to modem mode and plug the Orbi base station into it the Superhub’s labelled WAN port. Go to the network address on the quick-start guide and you’re guided through pairing the satellite hub, setting passwords, setting wifi details, checking for and updating firmware and registering your purchase. The longest part of the process was going around every device in the house and telling it what the new wifi details were!
Security is an obvious worry on an IOT device and a home hub even more. Netgear seem to have got the process right, requiring you to set at least a reasonable length password on setup and automatically checking for firmware updates. The only thing I’d disagree with is their having UPnP turned on by default.
So what connectors do we get? Seven gigabit ethernet ports – three on the base station and four on the satellite. That also has the advantage of giving you somewhere to plug in your wired gadgets away from where your base station is without having to thread wires throughout your house.
There are 3 USB 2.0 ports on the Orbi – two on the satellite station and one on the base station but they’re not enabled in the firmware. This might change in the future but right now they are not good for anything other than charging ports.
- Amazon Alexa integration – this is interesting but can only turn the guest network on and off, reboot the router and send wifi settings.
- Two apps – one simple Orbi app and a more full featured Genie App. You need to install both to get the most out of the system.
- Parental Control options that let you black and white list particular services and categories of sites, control access times and set specific abilities for specific devices.
- OpenVPN services built in to allow your whole internet connection to be encrypted with the correct service.
Environment & People
At just over £370 the Orbi isn’t a cheap system – it’s a premium product and unique in what it offers. If you have the technical chops and time to build your own system it’s possible to do so and the price would probably work out at around £200. Is the extra cost worth it for the convenience and the look of the Orbi? Yes.
Product dimensions: 17 x 23 x 6.5 cm plus cables
Ethernet ports: 3 on base and 4 on satellite
Wifi: 2.5 and 5GHz
Colour: Cream with LED ring
Energy use: Between 6.1 Watts at idle up to 34.6 Watts of power with a satellite, multiple wifi connections and multiple ethernet connections
Release date: 2016
Materials: ABS Plastic
Connectivity: Three USB 2.0 – currently not turned on
Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n/ac (2.4 & 5 GHz) capable
Ethernet: 7 Ethernet out
NFC (Near Field Communication): No
The Orbi system is a wifi system not a modem/router. You will need a separate either ADSL modem or cable router to actually connect to the internet. Chances are that the box you have is already fulfilling that function as well as wifi so you will need to switch exactly what it’s doing. If you’re not sure about this look up the the exact model of your current unit on Google and there are likely to be instructions available for switching it between modem and hub modes. The Orbi will also not boost your internet connection in any way – if you’ve a slow connection increasing the speed of your wifi won’t make a significant difference to your surfing although increasing the range might be a help.
As the reader you’re probably going to have two questions – will this improve the wifi speed and coverage in my house and is it straightforward? The simple answer is yes. The Orbi does what it claims and will increase the size and probably speed of a standard wifi network significantly. It’s hard to quantify exactly how much but in my testing it was significant and noticeable. The setup process is also very simple and straightforward needing a minimum of technical ability.
The system isn’t cheap especially when you consider it will probably be replacing a box that you got for free and already probably works but getting extra coverage might well be worth it. The ultimate recommendation is perhaps this. My daughter is enjoying fast internet in her bedroom for the first time. She wants to keep the Orbi. Recommended.
The review is based on the Netgear Orbi with one satellite kindly provided by Netgear during March 2017. This article was first published on 27 March 2017.