- Business Insider
If you’re reading about WiFi routers, chances are your WiFi at home isn’t living up to your standards.
The first thing I’d recommend is to make sure you’re using your own internet modem if possible, as the one provided by your internet service provider (ISP) might be the culprit for slower internet speeds than your paying for.
If that doesn’t do the trick, maybe your WiFi router can’t reach the parts of your home where you use WiFi. If you’re suffering from poor WiFi signal, I’d sincerely recommend looking into the newer WiFi “systems” over buying a regular WiFi range extender.
Regular extenders generally don’t work very well, as they often cut your internet speeds in half where you want to extend your WiFi. WiFi systems are also easier to use than regular extenders.
I had some time with Netgear’s latest offering in the WiFi systems space, called the Orbi RBK40, and it’s my new top recommendation if you’re looking for a WiFi upgrade.
Check it out:
I tried Netgear’s new Orbi RBK40 WiFi system, which includes two units that are smaller than Netgear’s original RBK50 Orbi system.
- Netgear/Labeling by Business Insider
The main differences between the new RBK40 and the original RBK50 models is coverage and price.
– The RBK40, which includes a primary router and a satellite device, covers up to 4,000 square feet. You can buy the RBK40 for $300 on Amazon at the time of writing.
– The RBK50, which also includes two access points, covers up to 5,000 square feet. It goes for $380 on Amazon at the time of writing.
Both units are designed to connect to each other to form a WiFi “system,” which is different than the traditional WiFi router and extender setup.
Most WiFi systems offer better coverage than an ad hoc pairing of a router and range extender.
The typical WiFi range extender is designed to work with a wide variety of routers. As a result, such devices typically aren’t optimized for any particular one. By contrast, the component devices of WiFi systems are designed to work specifically with each other.
Such “systems,” like Netgear’s Orbi, also fix some of the main annoyances with regular WiFi range extenders. For example, most WiFi routers and extenders require you to manually switch between the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Orbi system, though, will automatically switch bands on your devices based on signal strength and the speeds you need.
By default, it tries to keep most devices connected to the 5GHz band, which can transmit at faster speeds. However, if your devices are out of range of the 5GHz band, it’ll automatically switch their connections to the longer range 2.4GHz band. For most applications, that band will still work perfectly well.
I set up the primary router with the blue top on the first floor at the center of my home and the satellite unit with the white top upstairs where I would usually put a regular WiFi range extender, and got to work.
Normally, a single powerful router would do the trick for most of my home, but not all of it. There are certain WiFi dead-zones upstairs and downstairs. Multiple Orbi units are designed to fix dead-zone problems like mine.
Orbi means having two or more routers around your home, but it feels like one single WiFi network.
Another annoyance with regular WiFi range extenders is having to switch your device’s connection between them and your main router. Orbi addresses this problem too, automatically switching your devices’ connections from its primary router to its satellite device – and vice versa – when they move out of range of either unit.
I tested this by starting a video call on my phone while connected to the primary router on the first floor, then moving to a dead-zone upstairs where the secondary unit was located. Usually when I go upstairs, my WiFi signal strength drops. But while connected to Orbi, it remained strong. The system switched me seamlessly to the satellite device, and my video call went on completely uninterrupted.
I was getting my full internet speeds wherever I went.
- Business Insider
I have a 100Mbps download and 35Mbps upload internet plan from my ISP.
As expected, I got my full internet speeds while my devices were connected to the primary Orbi unit downstairs.
Where I really saw a difference was upstairs. The screenshot above shows five speed tests I took from a laptop on the second floor of my home. I was clearly getting the speeds I’m paying for – and more – with the Orbi RBK40.
By comparison, when I was using a regular WiFi range extender in that part of my house, I generally saw sluggish performance and my internet speeds were about half of what I got on the Orbi.
Orbi has a trick up its sleeve that gives it an edge against other WiFi systems like Eero and Google Wifi.
Most WiFi systems extend your WiFi to a satellite unit on the same 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands that you use for your devices. That can lead to a crowded network. You probably will only notice the difference if there are a lot of people using your WiFi system and everyone happens to be streaming videos or downloading large files at the same time. But in those cases, your internet speeds and performance can suffer.
What distinguishes Orbi from other systems is that it uses a “third band” of WiFi that acts like a private highway to transmit data between the primary router and the satellite unit. That highway allows each Orbi unit to transmit internet traffic to each other without interfering with your devices’ WiFi connections. It’s almost as if the Orbi devices are connected to each other by an Ethernet cable, and it makes for consistently rock-solid performance.
Yet, I found Orbi wasn’t as easy to set up as Eero or Google Wifi. A comparison of instruction manuals offers a feel for what I mean. Here are the instructions for setting up the Orbi:
And here are the instructions for setting up Google Wifi, which was markedly easier to configure.
- Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider
There is one specific thing I need to point out, which could help you if you buy any of the Orbi packages:
The Orbi devices show you what and how they’re doing with rings on their tops that glow different colors. For example, a blue ring tells you the connection between the Orbi devices is strong, and a magenta ring tells you the connection is weak.
Orbi’s instructions manual explains the significance of three of the colors. But the devices can display several more than that. Sometimes they’ll be solid and sometimes they’ll pulse on and off. Each signal represents something different.
To interpret them, you’ll have to go online to a Netgear support page to get the full run-down. I had to do this during my own setup when the Orbi emitted a pulsing white glow, which wasn’t mentioned in the manual.
And there’s no easy way to monitor your WiFi network.
- Business Insider
Netgear’s new Orbi app is an improvement over its old Genie one, but it’s still extremely limited compared to the apps that go with the Eero and Google Wifi systems. Those apps let you see what devices are attached to each unit in the system and the strength of the signals connecting them.
Those features aren’t necessary for good WiFi, but I like to have that kind of information and control to make sure everything is working properly.
The RBK40 seems expensive, but apart from the RBK50, it’s the best WiFi system I’ve tried so far.
$300 is a lot of money for a pair of WiFi access points. But after using the Orbi RBK40 for a few days and performing several speed tests, I found it offers the most consistent and best performance out of any WiFi system or WiFi range extender I’ve tried
Eero and Google Wifi are similar to the Orbi and both performed excellently, but neither was quite as consistent. What’s more, while a Google Wifi system with three access points costs the same as the Orbi RBK40, an Eero three-pack costs $100 more and covers 1,000 square feet less space.
That’s why, out of all the WiFi systems, I’d recommend Netgear’s Orbis.