I’m back…finally. :-)
For the past few months, I’ve been on a mission to find the best home WiFi. The “best” does not necessarily mean the fastest. It means the most reliable as we move around the house from room to room. It also means The Mrs. will not curse our stupid and slow home internet. This year, we have seen the rise of consumer wireless mesh networks that has typically been only available to corporate environments. Products from eero (that Dave endorses), Ubiquiti, Securifi, and Netgear are vying for you to upgrade your current router with the promise of whole home WiFi goodness!
Our residence is a newer-built detached single family home with two floors and a basement. Over the years, I’ve silently replaced our main router as newer technology has been released. I say silently, as my test for this was basically to see if The Mrs. would notice or comment on our home wireless network. Would she just look at me and ask why I was staring at her while she used her tablet…or would she throw that tablet to the ground screaming to the WiFi gods. In the past, I’ve tried multiple scenarios for our home network. The ONE ROUTER TO RULE THEM ALL approach. The Router + Powerline + Access Point approach. The Router + Extend Me approach.
While all of these might have worked initially, each scenario failed at some point whether it was clients being too far away from the router, or clients not being able to hand off properly to the different access points. Each scenario failed at our house. That’s why the wireless mesh network intrigued me so much. And with the big names finally getting into the ballgame, I thought it was time to try the Netgear Orbi.
The Netgear Orbi WiFi system comes with two individual routers, a main router and a satellite for a starting price of $399. That definitely is a lot higher of a starting cost than just a single router, but you are really getting two routers for this package. Much like the other mesh wireless products, the idea is to have the main router in one part of your house connected to your internet line, and the satellite in a more central location. The main hub will be responsible for connecting the satellite and providing easy handoff between the two as you roam around your house. This also has the benefit of providing greater range and reliability for your wireless network. Netgear illustrates this in the picture below:
In Netgear Orbi’s own FAQ on the difference between mesh and range extenders:
Orbi provides a single WiFi network for your entire house. You can connect to one WiFi network, and Orbi takes care of the rest to ensure that you have the fastest possible connection to the Internet.
Range extenders work by repeating the WiFi signal of your router to other parts of your house. As a result, you have two different WiFi networks to connect to: one for your router and another for your range extender.
This means that you do not have to resort to two different networks. The Orbi WiFi system is smart enough to know that when you move around the house, it will automatically connect your client to the best access point. This also means that it will connect between the 2.4ghz and 5ghz bands depending upon your location. It doesn’t matter where you are, the Orbi system will figure it out and handle your WiFi clients appropriately.
To setup your Orbi system, you simply attach the main router to your existing cable modem. First, I powered down the cable modem for 30 seconds, then powered it back on. Then I replaced my existing router with the main Orbi and let it boot up. Once I received the white light of the Orbi, I simply plugged in the satellite unit into a more central location of our home. This meant the upstairs loft as it would provide adequate coverage for the back of the house.
After a minute or so, the two Orbi units found each other and I received a blue light with meant a good signal between both of them. I then continued to the initial setup. As much as I would have liked for there to be a native iOS or Android app, Netgear asks you to connect to the Orbi directly via a web browser. You simply go to http://orbilogin.com to start the setup after you have connected to the main router.
This is easy enough, but I wonder if a native app would have helped. TP-Link found out the hard way that if you don’t renew a specific address related to your router setup, there could be issues. Both eero and Amplifi have a dedicated app to handle initial setup and configuration.
Upon connecting to the Orbi, I was asked a few questions about my wireless network. It was easy enough to put my existing information in terms of wireless name and password. That way all my clients could connect without have to go reset them.
So how does the new wireless mesh work compared to previous our routers? Excellent…for now. ;-) Having the satellite Orbi upstairs in the loft has provided excellent coverage to our 2nd floor. For our bedroom, which usually has issues connecting, I have been able to get over supposed max speed of 75Mbps from Comcast to 89Mbps at times for download! Moving throughout the house has not presented an issue either. I can go from our 2nd floor, to the 1st, and to the basement without issue.
The advances with consumer mesh network seem to be living up to the promise of whole home WiFi that horrendous looking routers and lackluster extenders could not provide. I’ll be using the Netgear Orbi over the next couple of weeks and report back on any issues. So far, the Orbi has been great and I urge you to look into mesh networking if your current home router is not providing you the best service.