Mesh Wi-Fi systems were almost tailor-made for the remote-working era. There are millions of people now working from home and making daily video calls, while also competing for a slice of wireless bandwidth with a variety of smartphones, tablets and games consoles. Increased Wi-Fi use can put a strain on even the fastest routers -- let alone the low-cost units often provided by broadband suppliers. Mesh networking systems are the ideal Wi-Fi upgrade for many homes and offices, as well as public venues such as restaurants and hotels. Mesh systems typically use a main router with a wired connection to a broadband modem, plus two or more wireless nodes or satellites that can be placed in different rooms or locations. These link together to provide greater range and reliability than a single conventional Wi-Fi modem/router.
Pricing & options
Netgear was one of the first companies to combine mesh networking and WiFi 6, with its Orbi Wifi 6 AX6000. That first model was a high-end system, providing tri-band WiFi 6 performance with a combined top speed of 6Gbps. Its price was also top-of-the-range: £709.99 (inc. VAT; £591.66 ex. VAT)/$699.99 for a two-piece system, or £969.99 (inc. VAT; £808.33 ex. VAT)/$999.99 for the three-piece option.
That sort of pricing can make even larger organisations think twice, so Netgear has recently released a new version called the Orbi WiFi 6 AX4200 that is still suitable for larger homes and offices, but with a more competitive price. Admittedly, it's still fairly expensive, costing £449.99 (inc. VAT; £375 ex. VAT)/$449.99 for the two-piece kit shown here, although it's designed to provide extensive Wi-Fi coverage for larger homes, offices or other locations up to 5,000 square feet in size. There's also a three-piece kit available that can cover 7,500sq.ft, priced at £629.99 (inc. VAT; £525 ex. VAT)/$599.99.
Design & features
As the name suggests, the Orbi WiFi 6 AX4200 supports tri-band WiFi 6 (a.k.a. IEEE 802.11ax) with a combined top speed of 4.2Gbps. That's slower than the 6Gbps of the AX6000 model, but still far faster than most current-generation 802.11ac routers. And, as well as providing greater performance, WiFi 6 is also designed to transmit data more efficiently to large numbers of devices all at once, with Netgear claiming that the Orbi WiFi 6 AX4200 is suitable for use with 40-60 devices. That sort of capacity should be enough to cope with even the most gadget-crazy households, as well as many busy offices and public locations.
The Orbi systems don't include a modem, so the first Orbi unit, known as the 'router', includes a Gigabit WAN port for connecting to your existing broadband modem or router, along with three additional Gigabit Ethernet ports for devices requiring a wired network connection. The second 'satellite' unit includes two Gigabit Ethernet ports as well.
The only disappointment is that Netgear's Orbi app tends to treat certain features, such as its Armor security system (which is based on the popular BitDefender), as an additional revenue stream. This is provided with a 30-day free trial, but then requires a monthly subscription fee for continued use.
As we remarked with the original Orbi Wifi 6 earlier this year, the WiFi 6/802.11ax standard is still in its 'early adopter' phase, and many homes and businesses may find that more affordable mesh systems based on WiFi 5/802.11ac will meet their current needs perfectly well. However, the ability to support ever larger numbers of devices means that WiFi 6 is very much designed with future IoT environments in mind, so a Wifi 6 mesh system such as this is still a sensible investment if you want to future-proof your home or office network.