As our homes and lives become more technology enabled, having fast and reliable home WiFi is now a must-have rather than a nice-to-have. Sure, it might be a bit ‘First World problems’, but internet connectivity is pivotal to many of the things we do each day. From sending emails to listening to music to watching TV shows to controlling our home, WiFi is the thing that underpins it all.
Like many young families, we’re no different when it comes to a reliance on the internet. In fact, as we’re pretty tech savvy and have embraced smart home tech as a way of improving our lives, we probably rely on the internet more than most.
However, despite paying a not so small amount each month for the privilege, our internet isn’t without issue. On the whole, it’s pretty reliable and speeds are suitable for our needs, however it sometimes slows down for no obvious reason and we have the odd WiFi dead spot, most notably in the kitchen and garden. In addition, our desktop computer struggles to connect at times, plus since getting a new phone, WiFi connection can be hit or miss on that device.
Having spent a fair bit of time researching ways to extend and improve our WiFi, installing a new, whole home WiFi system – as opposed to getting an extender or using an access point – looked to be the most suitable. Having looked at various options, one name kept appearing time and time again – NETGEAR Orbi.
Having spoken to them previously about testing and reviewing some of their other tech, I was very chuffed when they said they were happy for us to try out one of their many Orbi systems. We were provided with the RBK53 AC3000 Tri-band 3.0Gbps – one of their fastest, most powerful and far reaching systems. Comprised of an Orbi Router (RBR50) and two Orbi Satellites (RBS50), the RBK53 is designed to provide uninterrupted and reliable WiFi coverage up to an impressive 6,000 square feet.
I don’t wish to give too much away at the start, but it has been incredible – internet speeds have increased, connections are more stable and we’re able to access uninterrupted WiFi from all locations in the house, including the drive and back garden. So, with that in mind, here’s my review of the NETGEAR Orbi RBK53 AC3000 Tri-band Mesh WiFi System:
The product is described as:
Enjoy the convenience of having a single WiFi network for your home. Go from your front door to the garden as you watch your favourite shows on your devices. From the basement to the backyard, this Orbi Whole Home WiFi System (RBK53) covers up to 6,000 square feet with high performance AC3000 WiFi. First with innovative Tri-band WiFi, Orbi helps deliver the fastest available Internet speeds even as more devices connect. This Orbi WiFi System comes with an Orbi WiFi Router and two Satellites and replaces your home router and extenders. It also easily works with existing Service Provider equipment so you will enjoy better WiFi everywhere. No Wi-Fi disconnects, no dead zones.
Within the RBK53 box I found an Orbi Router (RBR50), two Orbi Satellites (RBS50), one 2m Ethernet cable, three power adaptors and a couple of leaflets, including a quick start guide. First impressions were good – everything looked to be sturdy and well made from solid plastic, plus I liked the sleek, curved appearance of the Router and Satellites. However, I was a little surprised at their rather large size (approx. 23cm H x 15cm W).
The Orbi Router and Orbi Satellites look pretty similar. The only real difference is on the back, where the Router has an Internet port but the Satellite has an additional Ethernet port instead – this means that there’s an impressive 11 Ethernet ports in total. Also on the back, you’ll find a Sync button, USB port, Power button, Reset button and a slot for the power connector.
Setup And Installation
Once everything was out of the box, it was time for setup. The first thing required was to put our existing router into modem-only mode. Our internet provider is Virgin Media, and as such, we’ve used the Virgin Media Hub 3.0 to connect to the internet as this acts as both modem and router. This has worked for us, but provides very limited features and control.
Orbi is actually compatible with any internet provider and therefore allows you to replace your existing WiFi router (and any WiFi extenders) with an Orbi Router and Satellite(s). After a quick Google, I found instructions on how to switch our Virgin Media Hub 3.0 into modem-only mode, which would allow us to continue to use it as a modem, but replace the router function with Orbi.
Like a lot of things like this these days, you’re able to download an app, then follow the step-by-step guide to assist with installation. I downloaded the NETGEAR Orbi App from Google Play (also on the App Store), then set about following the simple instructions.
Setup was straight forward and involved connecting the Orbi Router to our modem (the Virgin Media Hub 3.0 mentioned earlier) using the Ethernet cable, plugging it into the wall using the power adaptor, then turning on and waiting for Router’s ring LED to turn white.
Next, it was time to place the Orbi Satellites around the house. I put one in the living room and one in the office in our converted attic space. As the Router is in our bedroom, this meant that there was a device on the ground floor, first floor and second floor, which I hoped would give full coverage.
It was then a matter of plugging in the Satellites using the power adaptors and waiting for the ring LED light to turn white, then blue a few minutes later, to signify a good connection. I was then able to use the network details on a sticker on the Router to connect to the Orbi WiFi network using my smartphone. After a software update which took a few minutes, everything was in place.
From the App, I was able to do a few key things straightaway. This included changing the WiFi Network Name and Network Key from the default one which was given to us. This took barely any time at all thanks to the App and was much more intuitive than the web based portal I had to use with Virgin.
Setup probably took a maximum of twenty minutes and was made simple due to the App. It was also aided by the devices already being pre-paired and thankfully required no specialist knowledge about techy concepts like bands or encryption. All in all, setup was pretty foolproof and suitable for someone who’s never done this before.
I did encounter a slight issue where I got stuck on the App login as it recognised my fingerprint, but then asked for it again and again and again. I’m not quite sure what was happening there, but it sorted itself out after restarting the app.
Now that our home WiFi network was up and running, the next task was connecting all of our devices to the internet as our network details had obviously changed. Depending on how many internet-enabled devices you own, this can be a bit of a laborious process and also requires you to decide on the type of connection, i.e. WiFi or wired via Ethernet.
For us, it involved connecting two phones, two tablets, two laptops, a desktop computer, two Google Homes, one Google Mini, two Google Chromecasts, one printer, an Xbox, a Virgin TIVO box and three smart home systems which we use to control heating, lighting, alarms and cameras!
As two of the three smart home systems have a hub, I connected them directly to the Router using the Ethernet ports. I also chose to position the upstairs Satellite next to the desktop computer so that this could use a wired connection. Finally, the downstairs Satellite went by the TV so that I could connect the Virgin TIVO box and Xbox via Ethernet.
Everything else was set up via WiFi. I considered connecting all devices – except the smart home hubs – by WiFi to avoid additional cables and make everything that bit neater around the house. However, wired Ethernet connections are still considered to be faster and more reliable than WiFi, so I decided to use those on static devices where it really mattered.
And that was that. Setup of the Orbi system had been straightforward and I’d easily managed to get all of my devices connected via a combination of WiFi and Ethernet. Now, it was just a matter of seeing how it performed over time.
Before I share my experiences of how life has been with the Netgear Orbi RBK53 Tri-band Mesh WiFi System over the last 3+ months, I wanted to explain a bit about how it works and some of the technical stuff. Although called a mesh network, it actually works a bit differently to a true mesh network. This is because the Satellites communicate only with the Router, rather than to each other.
Each Router is able to handle up to three Satellites, which when placed around the house, create a seamless, whole home WiFi system capable of covering up to 6,000 square feet. Each Orbi device has six high performance internal antennas with high-powered ampliﬁers and come with MU-MIMO capability which allows simultaneous data streaming to multiple devices.
The Orbi WiFi system is Tri-band, so WiFi data is transmitted on three radio-frequency bands. There’s a 2.4 GHz frequency (400Mbps data throughput) and 5 GHz frequency (866Mbps data throughput) which your devices are automatically assigned to – the former provides coverage at a longer range but transmits data at a slower speed, whereas the former provides less coverage but transmits data at a faster speed.
There’s also an additional 5 GHz radio-frequency band (1733Mbps), which is a dedicated WiFi link for the backhaul, so is used exclusively for Orbi Router and Satellites communications – they call this FastLane3 Technology. This separate channel effectively means that the internet speeds available for your devices are maximised because data transfer between the Router and Satellites aren’t eating into your bandwidth.
The system allows you to connect 25+ devices. This sounds like a lot, but considering everything these days is smart and relies on WiFi, you’ll be surprised at how many devices end up connecting. In total, we have around 22 devices connected, with typically 17 or so of these always connected.
One of the things I hoped that the Orbi WiFi system would improve was the WiFi coverage throughout the house. Prior to Orbi, we were unable to connect to the internet in (1) the downstairs room at the back of the house (former kitchen, now play room), (2) the back garden and (3) on the front drive. As soon as you entered either of these areas, the WiFi disconnected and our phones switched to 4G.
Since installing Orbi though, WiFi is now accessible from each of these locations which is fantastic. It’s not a matter of ‘oh, I think it might be a bit better’, it’s a black and white ‘we now have WiFi where we didn’t before’. This means we can stay connected to the internet wherever we are in the house and on our property, with no fear of hitting a WiFi dead spot.
It’s not just portable WiFi devices though. Another improvement I’ve noticed is that the smart camera placed on the back of our house is now clearer and less juddery than before. It was always on the cusp of where our WiFi ended, so there was a tendency for video footage to be a bit pixelated and delayed.
Orbi advertises that this system covers homes of up to 6,000 sq ft, so it more than covers our house and garden. In practice, this means I can now do things like stream music from Spotify when outside and busy myself on my phone with a streamed TV show from the play room as the kids happily occupy themselves. Oh, and get better quality video footage if someone attempts to break in – you’ve been warned!
WiFi Speed and Reliability
Our current Virgin Media package includes M200 Fibre Broadband, which they advertise as having average download speeds of 213Mbps, average upload speeds of 20Mbps and being suitable for busy households with 10+ devices. On the whole, we’ve always been happy with this – well, except the constant price hikes (!) – and feel this is more than suitable for our home.
However, it hasn’t always been perfect. There are times when everything just slows down – web pages take longer to load, emails take longer to come through, Netflix buffers and there’s a lag in actions on smart home tech. I’ve never figured out why this is the case and it’s never been frequent enough to bother me too much, but it’s evident that sometimes the speed just drops and things grind to a halt.
Since setting up Orbi, I honestly can’t think of a time when this has happened. We’ve had Orbi in place for 3+ months now and every day has been the same – fast and reliable no matter where we are in the house, which device we are using or how many devices are connected at the same time.
Don’t just take my word for it though. Prior to installing Orbi, I did a few Which internet speed tests over WiFi at various locations (bedroom, office and kitchen) in the house. As you can see below, the download speeds varied quite significantly – 195.5Mbps to 96.8Mbps – depending on where I was stood in the house. Even at the highest, the speed is also quite a bit below the 213Mbps we should be getting through Virgin.
I then did the same test after installing Orbi. Again, this was done a few minutes apart and from the bedroom, office and kitchen. As you’ll see, the download speed is not only more consistent from all three locations, but is now inline with what we should be getting from Virgin. Interestingly, the latency has increased by a few milliseconds and our upload speed has dropped by 2.5Mbps, however I can’t say I’ve noticed that in day to day life.
The NETGEAR Orbi App also allows you to conduct your own speed tests directly in the App, which is something I do on a semi-regular basis. As you’ll see below, Download, Upload and Ping are very, very consistent despite different dates, times and locations. Perhaps due to using Speedtest rather than Which, the results are even more impressive – we are getting a better than expected Download speed of 218Mbps and the upload speed is into the high 20’s.
As the above tests were done over WiFi, I also thought I’d do a couple on the desktop computer via Ethernet connection. This again shows great consistency and even more impressive Download speeds as an extra few Mbps are squeezed out through a hardwired connection.
So what does this indicate? Well, as I’ve experienced in day to day life, this gives actual numbers to show two main improvements since getting Orbi – (a) we have a more consistent WiFi throughout the house regardless of factors like time of day or number of devices connected, and (b) our Download speed has improved and is now in line (and slightly above) the 213Mbps we should be getting from Virgin.
WiFi Management And Security
As well as the initial installation, the NETGEAR Orbi App is also used to manage your WiFi system. It’s quite simple to use and isn’t feature heavy, however it provides additional info and management above and beyond what I could do previously.
From the App, you can do things like review and change settings to the Router and WiFi, install additional products, access support, and manage your account. There’s also the ability to check a Network Map, conduct Internet Speed tests, enable a Traffic Meter, check out WiFi Analytics and reboot the Router.
The thing I find most useful is Device Manager. This allows you to see all devices connected to your system – and thus check nothing is connected that shouldn’t be – along with information on the connection type, i.e. which devices have a wired connection and which are connected to the two radio-frequency bands.
From here, you can get further info on each device, and, cleverly, turn on/off internet access for that device. It also means I can kick the missus and kids off the internet if I’m in an annoying mood!
Device Manager also allows you to rename and select icons for each device to help keep track of what’s what on your system. This is a great idea, but sadly the app keeps forgetting assigned names which is very frustrating – having looked online, it’s a common problem which hopefully is due to be fixed in an upcoming firmware update.
From a security perspective, the Orbi RBK53 can be used with the WPA2-PSK and WPA security standards to protect the wireless network. It also comes with a month’s free trial of NETGEAR Armor (powered by Bitdefender) cyber threat protection which is great – however, that’s an additional £60 if you want to continue with that extra security after the trial.
There’s also an option of setting up Guest WiFi. This allows you to enable a separate WiFi network with a different password for anyone who you don’t want on your main network. This works as an additional security measure because it means that you don’t have to share your proper password and can manage access more effectively.
It also comes with Circle. In partnership with Disney, this separate parental control app allows you to manage screen time on all your family’s WiFi and mobile devices by setting limits and filtering content. You can choose between a free subscription with basic functionality or pay to unlock all features. L’s tablet time tends to be supervised anyway, so I’ve not used Circle properly yet. However, it looks a decent App and I can imagine using it more as she gets older.
Orbi also comes with the ability to be controlled via Amazon Alexa or the Google Assistant. As we’re very much a Google Home home, I’ve been able to manage various aspects of the WiFi system using my voice. Once you’ve linked your NETGEAR account in the Google Assistant app, you can say “OK Google, talk to NETGEAR”, then use commands like “turn on the Guest WiFi” or “reboot the router”.
The NETGEAR Orbi RBK53 AC3000 Tri-band Mesh WiFi System retails at £469.99 and is available at Amazon and a few independent websites. There’s no getting around the fact that this is a considerable outlay of money and is at the upper end of the market in terms of price when compared to similar products from competitors.
That being said, at the time of writing, the price had dropped to £349.99 and it has gone as low as £299.99 before. So, if you bide your time, you can get it for a fair bit cheaper. It’s also worth considering whether a smaller Orbi system will suffice – for instance, RBK50 is currently £259.99 as it comes with the Router and the one Satellite.
I’ve been hugely impressed with the NETGEAR Orbi RBK53 AC3000 Tri-band Mesh WiFi System. I’d done a lot of reading about it and knew it would be good, but truth be told, it’s surpassed my expectations. With tech and WiFi being such a big part of our lives these days, you can’t underestimate just how great it is to not have to worry about connection, particularly as you move through your house.
Prior to Orbi, we had a WiFi dead spot in the kitchen, plus had no chance of connecting when on the drive or in the back garden. There were also other areas of the house – for instance, the office – where WiFi was slower as it was further away from our Virgin Media Hub 3.0. In addition, our internet occasionally slowed down for no noticeable reason.
However, since installing Orbi, we now have a fast and reliable WiFi network which covers all of the house – including the drive and back garden. No matter where we are on the property, which device we are using or how many devices are connected, we are able to access the internet with maximum speeds. As per the speed tests conducted, we now receive faster speeds in line with what we should be getting from Virgin.
Everything about Orbi has been straight forward. From the initial setup where you’re guided by the App through to adding devices and managing the network, things couldn’t have been simpler. I’m comfortable with tech, but by no means an expert and have no technical knowledge of routers etc, so it’s been great that a lot of the complications have been removed for the end user.
The only slight negatives to mention are (1) it’s expensive and pricier than many competitors, (2) the Router, Satellite and power adaptors are large in size, which can make it harder to find suitable locations and get them to blend in, and (3) the constant forgetting of assigned names and icons in the App’s Device Manager has been frustrating.
However, considering the massive improvements Orbi has made to our home WiFi, these are things I’m happy to overlook. All in all, I can’t sing its praises high enough and would have no qualms in recommending it to anyone else looking to improve the performance, management and security of their home WiFi.
The DADventurer Star Rating
5 Out Of 5 Stars
Disclosure: The Orbi RBK53 AC3000 WiFi System was sent to me by NETGEAR with the purpose of writing an honest review in exchange for the product.
Disclosure: This post includes an affiliate link(s).