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Security features and parental controls require additional subscriptions
Lacks advanced features for IT managers
Netgear has an extensive range of premium priced Orbi mesh networking systems that are well designed, easy to use and deliver good performance, making them a good – if pricey -- option for both offices and homes.
That's particularly true of the latest addition to the range, the Orbi 5G WiFi 6 Mesh System (NBK752), which combines high-speed Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) connectivity with 5G mobile broadband to provide a 'failsafe' backup in case you lose your main internet connection at a critical moment.
Price & options
The Orbi 5G WiFi 6 is very much a top-of-the-range option, combining tri-band Wi-Fi 6 with a top speed of 4.2Gbps, and 5G mobile broadband -- the speed of which will depend on the 5G coverage provided by the mobile networks in your particular area. You'll need to provide your own 5G Nano SIM and the Orbi 5G WiFi 6 is currently compatible with AT&T and T-Mobile networks in the US, with Verizon listed as 'coming soon'. In the UK and other territories, Netgear states that it "works with all major service providers".
Prices start at $1,099.99 for a two-piece mesh system that can cover areas of up to 5,000 square feet (464 sq. metres). Netgear's website indicates that a three-piece kit will also be available, covering up to 7,500 sq. ft (697 sq. m), but pricing hadn't been announced at the time of writing. However, an add-on satellite unit is currently listed at $199.99 (down from an RRP of $249.99), bringing the total for a three-piece system to $1,299.98. If that's too much for your needs, then the earlier LBR20 model is still available with Wi-Fi 5 and 4G LTE mobile broadband for around $400.
Design & features
The Orbi 5G WiFi 6 sticks with Netgear's traditional design for the range, with its tall, slim mini-towers that take up very little space -- although it's still a good idea to give the Orbi a little breathing room when you're setting it up, to avoid obstacles that might hinder the Wi-Fi signal.
Netgear's Orbi systems comprise a primary router and one or more secondary 'satellites'. In this case, the router is noticeably larger than the satellite, standing 246mm high, compared to 231mm for the satellite. On the back of the primary router you'll find a Gigabit Ethernet WAN port, which can be connected to your existing broadband modem or router in order to use its internet connection. The router also a slot for a 5G Nano SIM to provide the mobile broadband failsafe option. The router and satellite both have two additional Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports to provide wired connections for your network.
The router and satellite each have six internal antennae for the mesh Wi-Fi network, but the router also has two connectors on the back for a pair of antennae that can help to improve 5G reception. That's a good idea, as I still get fairly modest 5G speeds in my built-up area in central London. However, these antennae are actually optional extras (pricing TBA), which seems a bit miserly given the system's premium price.
That turns out to be a sign of things to come too, as the Orbi app for iOS and Android never misses a trick to try and sell you additional subscriptions for its Armor security service ($99.99 annually) and Smart Parental Controls ($799 per month, or $69.99 annually). The Orbi 5G WiFi 6 does include a 30-day free trial for both services, but the Parental Controls service proved particularly annoying by regularly popping subscription reminders on-screen while using the app.
The Orbi 5G WiFi 6 is primarily designed for home users and remote workers, so Netgear's Orbi app keeps things as simple as possible. You can download the Orbi app and scan the QR code printed on the main router, and the app automatically detects the router, checks your internet connection, and then links the router and satellite together to form a new mesh Wi-Fi network.
The Orbi app creates a single network that merges the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, with an option to also create a guest network if you need to. That simplicity will certainly appeal to people who are working from home, but the Orbi 5G WiFi 6 doesn't provide the more advanced features of Netgear's business-oriented Orbi Pro models, which allow you to create multiple networks with different access privileges for staff, visitors and IT managers. Office-based IT managers might, therefore, prefer to look at the Orbi Pro, or one of Netgear's mobile hotspot products for 4G/5G connectivity.
The key feature of the Orbi 5G WiFi 6, though, is its ability to connect to the internet via both a conventional landline or fibre broadband connection and a mobile broadband network. The Orbi app takes care of this as well, providing three modes of operation. The 'Ethernet-Only' mode relies on the WAN port to use the internet connection from an existing broadband modem or router. Alternatively, the 'LTE-Only' mode relies purely on mobile broadband and lets the WAN port act as an additional LAN port for wired connections. Business users, however, will probably want to rely on the third mode -- 'Ethernet+LTE Fallback' -- which uses the WAN port where possible, but can also switch to 5G/LTE if your home or office broadband goes down for any reason.
The Orbi app seems to use the term 'LTE' simply to mean 'mobile broadband', which isn't entirely accurate. Our review unit also seemed to opt for 'LTE-Only' by default, which was a little confusing during setup as I couldn't understand why the Orbi was unable to connect to the internet when connected to my normal office router. It took me a little while to find the sub-menu within the app that lets you switch modes, so a little more clarity on this key feature wouldn't go amiss.
I started with the Orbi 5G WiFi 6 in Ethernet-only mode, in order to test the speed of its mesh Wi-Fi network. I connected the Orbi's primary router to the normal office router that provides my broadband internet service, while the Orbi satellite was placed further away in a back office that normally suffers from poor Wi-Fi reception. The normal router provides an average speed of 355Mbps for devices in the same room, but then drops to 71Mbps in the more distant back office. The new mesh network set up by the Orbi system provided stronger performance in both locations: 430Mbps in the main office, and an impressive 390Mbps in that troublesome back office.
Pulling out the Ethernet cable told the Orbi system that it was time to switch to 5G/LTE mode. The download speed from the 5G mobile broadband was relatively modest -- averaging around 60Mbps, but that's due to the 5G coverage available in this built-up area of London, rather than any weakness in the Orbi system itself. That speed should still be able to handle routine web browsing and email, and even a few video calls, if you lose your normal broadband connection unexpectedly.
The Orbi 5G WiFi 6 is expensive, and Netgear's hard sell when it comes to add-on services is annoying, given the premium pricing. There are certainly less expensive alternatives available for business users who need mesh Wi-Fi with mobile broadband support available as an emergency backup.
However, the Orbi 5G WiFi 6 also provides a degree of future-proofing, with high-speed Wi-Fi 6 networking that will support large numbers of Wi-Fi 6 devices in larger homes and offices. And with its 5G support, the Orbi 5G WiFi 6 also provides peace-of-mind for business users who need fast, uninterrupted connectivity at all times.
Netgear Orbi 5G WiFi 6 Mesh System specifications
>Router: 246.4mm x 195.6mm x 86.4mm (9.7in. x 7.7in. x 3.4in.) • Satellite: 231.1mm x 182.9mm x 71.1mm (9.1in. x 7.2in. x 2.8in.)
If you like the idea of mesh Wi-Fi with mobile broadband backup, but find Netgear's Wi-Fi 6/5G solution too expensive, the company's Wi-Fi 5/4G LTE model (LBR20) is a more affordable alternative. If you just want to distribute a fixed line internet connection around your home, we've highlighted a couple of contenders at opposite ends of the price spectrum. Check out ZDNet's mesh Wi-Fi roundup for more suggestions.