Just over a year ago, I wasn’t even near to being on the fence with mesh Wi-Fi systems. I was fully in the camp of old-school, high powered routers. My network used a monster, tri-band gaming router with a combined Mbps of data throughput, with eight directional antennas. But then something changed and my Wi-Fi performance began to stumble. In a timely pitch, Netgear offered to send me its Orbi AC Whole Home Mesh Wi-Fi system to try out. Given the circumstances, I decided to give it a shot, even though the maximum throughput of Mbps with a good chunk of that bandwidth dedicated to backhaul between the main router and satellite was theoretically a big downgrade. I haven’t looked back…
Netgear s Orbi AC router and satellite.
Pretty Much a Worst-Case Scenario for a Wi-Fi Router
My house has always been pretty much a worst case scenario for Wi-Fi. I work from home, with my office on the top floor of a four-level side split that’s full of wireless obstacles like glass doors, concrete steps and a brick chimney.
Given my occupation, it’s probably not surprising that I have a lot of connected smart devices — everything from cameras to a thermostat, lights and smart outlets. At any given time there are a half dozen speakers liable to be streaming audio over Wi-Fi, there are five active Apple TVs including one K Apple TV streaming content from Apple but also locally from my iTunes media library, and I have three teenagers who are equipped with the usual smartphones, tablets and game consoles. Two of them are “hardcore” gamers who are online constantly. There are also Wi-Fi connected devices outdoors, including a camera and a smart grill deep in the back yard.
The Wi-Fi demand finally choked my router. Even after upgrading our internet service to Mbps, there were complaints from the gamers about lag, devices got kicked off the network randomly and Apple TVs started flashing “there was a problem connecting to the network” errors. Hours of network testing including router placement, interference checks, channel optimization, firmware updates and even cable replacements later, and there was no improvement. Although the bandwidth demand was high thanks to multiple K streams, my guess was the sheer number of connected devices was finally overpowering the router.
I unplugged the beast, setting it aside for a quick swap back should things go from bad to worse, and plugged in the Orbi router. Then I followed the directions and used the color LED light ring to find a solid location for the satellite.
A solid blue LED ring during setup means the Orbi satellite has a good connection to the router, eliminating guesswork about its position.
The main Orbi router remained in the same location as my previous router, on the main floor at one end of the house. The satellite ended up one floor down, and closer to the middle of the house. Because even the satellite has four Ethernet ports and it was placed near the family room TV, I physically connected the K Apple TV — something I couldn’t do with a single router that was on a different floor in a house design that is not conducive to running wiring.
High Performance Mesh Wi-Fi
The results were nothing short of a night and day difference. Since the Netgear Orbi AC system has been in place, Wi-Fi has been rock solid. No complaints about lag — at least none that didn’t turn out to be an Xbox Live server issue — streaming video starts playing almost immediately, and not a peep from the Apple TVs about network connection issues. The K Apple TV that’s physically connected streams K video instantly, with the content loading at rocket speed.
From Mbps to Mbps in my office.
Screen capture by Brad Moon
Running the Netflix Speed Test application on the iMac in my office using my Mbps gaming router, the best speeds I recorded were around Mbps. Given that my office was at the other end of the house and a floor up from the router, with the chimney and a glass door in between, that was hardly surprising. What is surprising is that with the Orbi mesh system, I regularly see Mbps speeds in my office — very close to the Mbps maximum of my internet plan. And despite the lack of bristling external antennas, it delivers high speed internet to the far reaches of the back yard as well.
Automatic Updates and Near Zero Downtime
The Orbi router is set to update itself automatically when it detects new firmware, which helps to ensure it remains secure. The system also uses colored LED light rings to show status changes, which has helped in terms of keeping the rest of my crew informed about what’s going on. Instead of pounding up the stairs any time there’s a hiccup with network connectivity, my kids now to have a quick glance at the Orbi router and if they see a magenta ring glowing, they know the issue is with our ISP. So I don t get demands to log on and “see what’s wrong with the Wi-Fi.”
A Magenta LED ring means the ISP is having issues…
Other than once or twice when the boys have been up late gaming and run into the router re-booting after a new firmware update that’s the pulsing white LED ring, the few Wi-Fi issues have virtually always been an issue with the ISP…
There’s not a lot to complain about with Netgear’s Orbi AC Whole Home Mesh Wi-Fi system. Like Anthony Karcz who tested an Orbi RBKV, I’m not a fan of the mobile app. But no biggie, I do any checking in on the router using web access instead.
There is, however, a lot to like… For the past year, my Wi-Fi network has been rock solid, and rocking in terms of speed. As an added bonus, my wife is a lot happier with the almost stylish Orbi routers compared to the huge, industrial looking router with it’s bristling and dust-collecting external antennas.
If your Wi-Fi network isn’t meeting expectations, I’d suggest checking out the Orbi AC currently priced at $. for a router and one satellite rated at , square foot coverage. And if you want something even more powerful, Netgear has a new Orbi system with Wi-Fi compatibility up for pre-order, although it will set you back a whopping $..