Review: Netgear Orbi RBK50

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Netgear Orbi RBK50

The Netgear Orbi (with satellite) was designed to replace a home WiFi router in order to increase the coverage and efficiency of a local wireless network. But is a more efficient local WiFi network really necessary?

Internet service provider routers: weak WiFi network

Clearly the answer is “yes”. The number of WiFi compatible electronics connected to the local network has been consistently increasing over the years. Laptop, smartphone, tablet, connected speaker, stereo system, multiroom system; it is not unusual for a 5 person household to accumulate up to 15 simultaneous WiFi connections. Imagine that one person is watching a series on Netflix, someone else is streaming a concert in high definition from a local Plex server, a third person is watching a cooking video, a fourth family member is watching sports on TV, and yet another person is listening to music, all while a multiroom audio system with voice control (Alexa, Google Assistant) is taking up a large part of the bandwidth.

While the accumulated data stream is still below the output threshold of a high-speed Internet connection (especially with a fibre connection), it is not unusual for the WiFi network to reach its maximum capacity, which consequently heavily penalizes some users.

Symptoms can range from Netflix switching to low definition streaming to interruptions or even complete freezing of musical playback, not to mention significant lagging issues for online gaming. These issues are exacerbated by the distance between the devices and the router.

Netgear Orbi RBK50
On the left, the Netgear Orbi RBR50 router, on the right the Netgear Orbi RBS50 WiFi satellite repeater.

Explanations

There are multiple reasons for slow WiFi transmission and interruptions. Internet routers are small computers often featuring undersized components (processor, memory).

The majority of Internet service provider routers are fitted with a processor so weak that it wouldn’t be enough to run an entry-level smartphone. Even a Raspberry Pi is a lot more powerful, which says a lot.

Insufficient computing power results in slower data transmission and causes streaming interruptions, for example. Another issue is that a standard WiFi transmitter is not powerful enough, and it often transmits data exclusively on the 2.4GHz frequency band, which is already an overused channel (there are 13 channels total). As a result, when radio signals have to go through walls and floorboards to reach your smartphone, the transmission quality plummets. Moreover, routers’ firmwares are far from being beyond reproach, and activating advanced functions sometimes results in bugs which are rarely corrected by updates.

Netgear Orbi: fast processor and plentiful memory

If you’re looking to entrust your home WiFi network to a high-performance device, the Netgear Orbi is precisely what you need. As a plus, the configuration process is far from being complicated. But before setting up the Netgear Orbi RBK50 for our test, a few technological clarifications may come in handy.

The Netgear Orbi is an evolutive system. The RBK50 is comprised of a router / WiFi access point (Orbi RBR50) and of a WiFi repeater (Orbi RBS50). Other repeaters may even be added to the router, which allows greater expansion of WiFi coverage (basement, garden, etc.). Each Orbi module is fitted with a multi-core processor and 6 internal WiFi antennas.

The Orbi system is a tri-band system, which means that it establishes a WiFi network over the standard 2.4GHz band (with automatic and dynamic choice of the best channel available), as well as two other networks over the more modern 5Ghz band. Orbi offers multiple solutions: each WiFi compatible device communicates with the Orbi router or repeater in order to establish the best possible connection. The two Netgear Orbi WiFi access points automatically adjust the intensity of their transmission depending on the number of electronics used and the neighboring WiFi networks in order to avoid any interference caused by foreign electronics.

A gauche, la bande très encombrée des 2,4 GHz, sur laquelle le Netgear Orbi a judicieusement choisi le dernier canal. Les routeurs Netgear51 et Tagada sont installés dans la même pièce que le routeur Orbi, mais émettent moins efficacement. A droite, la première bande 5 GHz, peu peuplée, avec en rouge le routeur Orbi et en jaune le satellite répéteur.
On the left is the very busy 2.4GHz frequency band, on which the Netgear Orbi judiciously chose the last channel. The Netgear51 and Tagada networks are in the same room as the Netgear Orbi but their signal intensity is not quite as strong. On the right is the first 5GHz band. We can observe that it is not very busy. The Orbi router is represented in red and the satellite repeater is represented in yellow.
Les deux bandes 5 GHz du Netgear Orbi sont dynamiquement agrégées pour améliorer les performances WiFi.
Both of the Netgear Orbi 5GHz bands are dynamically aggregated to ensure optimal WiFi transmission.

The Netgear Orbi WiFi system implements three networks with bandwidths theoretically rated at 400 Mbps, 866 Mbps, and 1733 Mbps (50MB/s, 108MB/s, and 216MB/s). These ratings are calculated from a short distance and will decrease the further a device is from the router’s antennas. If a Macbook can reach up to 30MB/s over WiFi when used in the same room as an Orbi, a smartphone separated from the router by two walls will only reach a transmission speed of 3MB/s. It isn’t much, but it’s enough to stream music and video content. What’s more important is that the Netgear system ensures absolute transmission stability.

Netgear Orbi RBK50
To set up the Orbi WiFi router, simply scan the QR code with the Netgear app during the installation process.

Netgear Orbi: setting up the router

Using a smartphone or a tablet (iPhone, iPad, Android) is without a doubt the easiest way to set up the Netgear Orbi. Simply connect the yellow Ethernet port of the Orbi to your existing router using the included Ethernet cable. Once the two devices are linked together, switch the router on (power supply included) and start the Netgear Orbi mobile app. Use the app to scan the QR code on the router’s label and follow the instructions given by the app. Once the installation is complete everything will start working really well and really fast. However, you will still have two routers connected to each other and the original WiFi transmitter will continue to emit a signal in vain.

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Screenshots of the Android control app during the installation process of the Netgear Orbi system.

There must a better way to go about it, then… Using a computer connected to the local network, type the original router’s address in a web browser. This junction IP address is often indicated under the device. You may also find this address in the computer’s network settings. In 99% of the cases the address is 192.168.x.1 (x corresponds to 0,1 or 2). This address will take you to the router’s configuration page. The username and password should also be printed under the device. Once authenticated, go to the advanced settings and deactivate the router function of the residential gateway (ISP router). Confirm and restart the device with the Orbi turned off. While your residential gateway has been restarted, switch the Orbi on, launch the mobile app, and simply follow the instructions. This type of configuration is optimal as it leaves the Orbi in charge of the Internet connection.

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No need for an installation guide, the Netgear Orbi app provides all the necessary instructions.

Netgear Orbi: Netgear Orbi app and parental control

The Netgear Orbi mobile app is available for iOS and Android and lets the user control the WiFi network in real time. It is possible to adjust the network parameters regardless of where you are when the remote control function is activated. The app provides basic information about the network, lets you change the WiFi password, restart the router, add another Orbi satellite repeater, or adjust the parental control function. It is also possible to list all the devices connected to the network (via WiFi and Ethernet) and each may be individually renamed and even blocked if you wish to do so. Netgear also partnered up with Disney to ensure compatibility with the Disney Circle parental control app. Unfortunately, advanced functions such as time limits and website filters require a 4€/month membership fee.

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The Netgear Orbi app features a parental control function. Note that the advanced controls (in other words, the most interesting functions) are only available with a paid membership ($4.99 per month membership).

Netgear Orbi: connectors

In addition to its Internet/WAN input, the Orbi Netgear router features three RJ-45 Ethernet Gigabit ports, as well as a USB type A port (to connect a printer). The three RJ-45 connectors may be used to connect a computer, a NAS, and a network switch example. These three ports ensure high-speed data transmission (100MB/s) which is especially useful for transferring large video files, for example. The Netgear Orbi satellite repeater is fitted with 4 Ethernet Gigabit ports to which any type of Ethernet compatible peripheral device may also be connected as well as with a USB type A port to connect a printer (same as the router).

Netgear Orbi RBK50
On the left, the connectors of the Netgear Orbi RBR50. On the right the connectors of the Netgear Orbi RBS50 satellite.

Netgear Orbi: advanced configuration

The Netgear Orbi mobile app doesn’t allow access to the Netgear Orbi advanced functions. Only the web interface allows you to access these functions. In order to access the advanced functions, enter the router’s IP address in a web browser or go to http://orbilogin.com. The router’s advanced functions let you adjust the accessibility of the ports (open/close) and add the parameters of an external VPN.

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The administrator web interface (optional) provides access to the advanced functions of the Netgear Orbi.

Netgear Orbi: practical use

We used the Netgear Orbi RBK50 with multiple WiFi peripheral devices (2.4GHz and 5GHz) and Ethernet Gigabit. We tested the Orbi RBK50 at the Son-Vidéo.com offices. We placed the satellite repeater in a room on a mezzanine, which usually has really poor WiFi coverage. Without surprise, the network coverage was much better and we were finally able to use our TV’s WiFi controller.

Watching movies stored on an Emby server was a breeze, even with large files. We were 15 meters away from the router (separated by a wall) and used two different smartphones.

Before the Netgear Orbi, this was impossible due to constant interruptions. We used a Lenovo P2 smartphone -data transmission up to about 433 Mbps on the 5GHz frequency band- and encountered no streaming issue when using Youtube, even when standing 20 meters away from the router and 10 meters away from the repeater. The response time of our smartphone when using the Internet seemed particularly fast. We streamed a movie from a remote Emby server using the Emby app for Android and did not experience any lagging or buffering. We were also able to jump seamlessly from one point to another in the movie.

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The user interface of the Netgear Orbi app lets you see who is connected to the WiFi network.

Netgear Orbi: conclusion

What we liked:

  • The user-friendly, plug-and-play design
  • The very effective 5GHz frequency band
  • The multiple Ethernet ports
  • The expansive WiFi coverage
  • The user-friendly mobile app
  • The possibility to adjust advanced settings via a web interface

We would have liked:

  • A parental control function accessible without paid membership

The Netgear Orbi RBK50 checks all the boxes. It is easy to use and it ensures a high-speed and stable WiFi transmission. The control app lets you monitor what is going on at home from a distance. Even with significant Ethernet and WiFi data streaming, the Orbi didn’t falter once. An interesting solution for a household where movie streaming, multiroom audio, and online video games are frequent activities.

Netgear Orbi RBK50

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