FEATURE REVIEW – Orbi Router

Wireless mesh networking is the latest thing in the world of Wi-Fi…

Introduction
I live in a two story home in suburban Chicago. The home is about 20 years old, and that puts its manufacture date just a few years before the introduction of Windows 95 and the public “release” of the internet.

Yes, yes… Of course, you’re right… Services like AOL, Prodigy and CompuServe were available long before that and had been giving folks access to the internet for a while. To many, that service, its UI, and everything it offered WAS the internet. However, the internet really didn’t start to heat up until 1995; and really didn’t start being made part of the standard single family home build with CAT5 cabling, until the early 2000’s.

For those older homes or those without network cabling in their walls, the easiest way to get internet access in your home has been with Wi-Fi. This is either done with a wireless access point, or more conveniently with a wireless router or cable modem/ router. Suddenly, you can get internet access all over your home… provided you have adequate signal.

And with Wi-Fi, that’s always been the big problem – adequate signal strength between your router or access point and your wireless device. No matter what you do, you’re going to run into signal interference from something in your home, whether it’s a wall or floor with wood or metal framing, copper, brass or PVC piping, electrical wiring and conduit… something is going to get in the way of your super strong, super-duper wireless router and will interfere with your access to the internet and all of its wonders.

Is the Netgear Orbi the wireless Wi-Fi router for me…? for you…? Let’s take a look at what it provides and see if it makes the cut.

Problems at Home
I’ve been in my current home for about 10 and a half years. During that time, I’ve been through 5-6 different wired and/ or wireless routers. For some reason, and I don’t know why, I seem to be on a 2-3 year cycle of replacing what appears to be “perfectly good” electronics because one day they’re workin’ just fine, and the next, they’re suckin’ up the joint.

I’ve tested the power coming into the outlets near where I have my cable modem hooked to the service cable coming into the house. Everything tests out just fine. I have no idea why I have to replace internet routers so often; but it appears that I do, as they just seem to “wear out.”

In following up with this problem, I’ve also contacted Comcast, my internet service provider, or ISP. They took one look at my cable modem and told me that my model was no longer supported. After some very frustrating and flawed, circular conversations on sending me a newer, supported model – and who was going to pay for shipping – I’m getting a new cable modem sent to me, absolutely free of charge, with Comcast covering the shipping. Its scheduled to arrive on 2016-02-03

Mesh Networking
Wireless mesh networking, or Wi-Fi systems as they are being marketed, are all the rage right now. They provide a stronger, wider reaching coverage area than traditional wireless networking solutions. The technology used here is similar to installing and using a signal repeater, a wireless access point or simply putting an additional wireless router in bridger mode; but with some very subtle, but important differences.

What makes these little bad boys better than an access point or other wireless router is the way that it repeats the signal. To understand why that is, we need to understand what mesh networking is and how it works.

Wireless access points and signal repeaters do just that – broadcast or forward on a wireless network signal; and that’s all. A mesh network Wi-Fi signal is different because in a mesh network the wireless signal is strengthened and sped up with each and every additional network node that is added to the network. The more nodes, the stronger and faster the single becomes. The denser the signal field, the better.

In a mesh network, only one node in the wireless mesh network actually needs to be directly wired to the Internet. That wired node is usually the wireless router or base station; and it shares the Internet connection wirelessly with the nearest cluster of nodes. Other wireless nodes share the signal with the node or node cluster nearest to them, etc.

Each individual node doesn’t need to be wired to anything. It only needs a power supply such as traditional AC plugs, batteries, etc. Nodes can also provide Internet connectivity to any type of internet device – wired or wireless devices – including VoIP phones, video cameras, servers, including desktop and laptop computers using traditional wired connections.

It’s this flexibility and strengthening and density of the internet connection that is making mesh networking or Wi-Fi systems so popular right now. They’re easy to setup and manage; and they provide internet connectivity to nearly any and every internet aware device – regardless of connection type.

Orbi Setup
To be very honest, this was surprisingly easy.

I’ve been using routers for home internet service since I got my first @Home internet service account back in 2000. I have a little bit of experience with these, and they are not always as intuitive and straight forward as one would hope; especially for noobies. Non-experienced users have traditionally had a great deal of trouble configuring and setting up wired and wireless routers, even in the more recent years with products that have been labeled “easy to configure.”

Home based, mesh networking is new technology (see above), and I really thought that setting up this product would be a lot different than what it turned out to be.

This was perhaps the easiest networking product I’ve ever setup. This was even easier to configure than my Apple Time Capsule.

When you get your Orbi Home Wi-Fi system, use these instructions to set it up.

  1. Connect the Router to your Cable Modem
    Unplug your cable modem and pull the backup batter so that it completely shuts down. Unplug and remove your old router (if you have one). Put the battery back in your cable modem. Wait 15 seconds and then plug your cable modem back in. Allow it to reregister on your ISP’s network.Plug an Ethernet cable from your cable modem into the yellow internet port on the back of your Orbi router.

    Plug in your Orbi router. The power LED on the back of the router should light green. If the LED doesn’t come on, press the on/off button. The LED on the TOP of your Orbi router should turn white.

  2. Position your Orbi Satellite 

    Your Orbi router should have a coverage area of at least 2000 square feet. When considering a spot for placing your Orbi, you need to consider more than the square footage of your home (mine is 2300 square feet…). You also need to consider the height of your home and how many floors you wish to provide wireless service to.I have 3 floors in my home. I have the Orbi router in my basement next to my Comcast cable modem. I have my Orbi Satellite on the opposite side of the house, in my family room, on the main floor of my home. This type of configuration blankets my entire home with Wi-Fi coverage on all three floors.

    The one thing that you have to keep in mind when positioning your satellite is that you must think in three (3) dimensions. Radio antennas provide coverage to either side of the unit as well as above and below it.

    When you plug the Orbi Satellite into an AC outlet, the power LED on the back will turn green. If it doesn’t, press the power burn. The Orbi satellite’s LED power ring will turn white and then a light magenta. It will remain a light magenta for about a minute while the satellite attempts to sync with the router.

  3. Confirm the Router Connection
    After about a minute or so, the LED power ring will turn either blue or amber.a. If the LED ring turns Blue
    The connection between the router and the satellite is functioning as intended and you’re good to go!

    b. If the LED ring turns Amber
    The connection between the router and the satellite is weak. You need to find a better place to position your satellite so that you get a stronger connection between the source of your internet connection (the router) and the satellite.

    c. If the LED ring remains Magenta
    If the LED remains magenta and you’ve already moved the satellite closer to the router, you may need to force the sync between the two units. Send someone down to the router and have them push the Sync button on the back of the router. After they’ve done that, you should press the Sync button the back of the satellite.

    If the Orbi router and satellite find each other and have a strong connection, the satellite’s LED ring will light white, then turn blue, and then turn off.

  4. Connect your Computer to the Orbi 

    Once you’re Orbi devices are setup and broadcasting a signal, you need to get in and configure them. Turn on Wi-Fi for your mobile device (phone or tablet) or your computer, and find the default Orbi network name (SSID) in your network list. Grab the box and check for the default password and then authenticate.Open your computing device’s web browser and surf to http://orbilogin.com. You will be presented with instructions on how to configure your device for the first time.

    During this time you MAY see the LED ring on your Orbi router or satellite turn back on. It may not… If it does, it should turn off once setup is complete.

Performance
I have the 75Mbps service offering from Comcast in suburban Chicago, IL. The service guarantees download speeds UP to 75Mbps and upload speeds UP to 20Mbps. Since installing the Orbi High-Performance AC3000 Tri-Band Wi-Fi System, my download speeds have been consistently well above that. I’m hitting download speeds of anywhere from 88Mbps to 92Mbps.

I’ve had a few instances of signal dropping or a complete lack of service, but that’s been confirmed to be an issue with either the service that Comcast has been providing or with their cable modem. In fact, I have a new cable modem from them that I need to install and activate. However, the signal provided by the Orbi has been strong and readily available on every floor of my home since it was brought on line.

The one issue that I need to work on with this setup is that ALL of my devices seem to be connecting to the base station and not to the satellite. I noticed this after I upgraded the firmware both devices immediately following installation. I’m not certain if that’s because I upgraded the router first and then the satellite, and everything grabbed a signal from the router instead of being more evenly distributed between the router and the satellite; or if there’s now an issue with the satellite due to the firmware flash.

I should have this all straightened out this weekend when I swap out my cable modems. I will provide an update later on this issue.

Conclusion
Make no mistake. This wireless networking system is expensive.

The Orbi High-Performance AC3000 Tri-Band Wi-Fi System retails for $399.99 for the base station and one satellite; and I’ve not really seen any real discount on this, even at Amazon. Its only $20 bucks cheaper there. It should also be noted that Amazon has the 3 node system (one base station and two satellites) for $599. Additional satellites are $249.99.

So far (when I know I have a good external service connection) this thing is smokin’ fast (and it better be for $399.99). All of my devices, including my smart TV’s and DVR’s – which historically have dropped their internet connection more than they’ve held on to it – don’t have any issues holding on to the wireless signal provided by the Orbi. I’m very pleased.

Setup was very easy, though for some reason I had a very difficult time checking for firmware updates. Uploading updated firmware to both the router and satellite was also, initially a bit problematic. I’m still having connectivity issues in the house, but I’m more convinced than ever that it’s not my equipment and is either the cable modem provided by Comcast (the old one that I need to swap out for its replacement) or is a DHCP/ DNS related issue on Comcast’s part. If the new modem hardware doesn’t resolve this, changing DNS servers within my network setup may.

Unfortunately, Comcast is the only service provider I have access to. Google has slowed down the implementation of its Google Fiber service; and unfortunately, it decided to skip Chicago anyway. My address also doesn’t qualify for AT&T Fiber; and their standard U-verse internet service simply sucks. Their plans max out at 12Mbps; and Comcast, even on a bad day can provide download speeds much, much higher than 12Mbps.

Do you have wireless internet service in your home? Do you have a separate wireless router and a cable modem, or does your cable modem also include a wireless router? Are you renting your cable modem from your ISP or did you purchase it outright? Do you have even Wi-Fi coverage in your home? Do you have weak or dead Wi-Fi spots in your home? Have you replaced your wireless router recently? Do you need to and are looking for a good replacement candidate?

I’d love to hear from you on these and other networking issues you’ve experienced lately or over the years. I’m very interested in understanding how many times you’ve had to replace a wired or wireless router in your home, especially if your cable modem does NOT provide wireless internet services. Why don’t you meet me in the Discussion area, below, and give me information on what you’ve got going on for internet at your place..?

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