Mesh networking kits and Wi-Fi systems have increased in demand in recent years. Even with competition from startups such as eero, which Amazon and Plume now own with compulsory subscriptions, and large corporations such as Google Wi-Fi and Nest Wi-Fi, Netgear’s Orbi continues to be popular in the market. The usage of a dedicated backhaul by Orbi gives vital support over other Wi-Fi systems that use shared backhauls. However, due to the increased radio expenses, the Orbi Wi-Fi systems have always carried a premium over the usual market offers in the sector.
At the 2021 CES, Netgear revealed their first Wi-Fi 6E router, the Nighthawk RAXE500. The router which costs $600, is based on a Broadcom BCM4908 network processing SoC + BCM46384 4-stream 802.11an/ac/ax radio. The company is now upgrading the Orbi with a Wi-Fi 6E option in the AXE11000 class. The RBKE960 Orbi series, based on Qualcomm’s Hawkeye (IPQ8074) / Pine (QCN9074) platform, is billed as the world’s first quad-band Wi-Fi 6E mesh system.
Netgear’s high-end Orbi kits have historically been tri-band systems with a dedicated 5 GHz backhaul channel. Wi-Fi 6E requires a tri-band solution, with 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, and 6 GHz compatibility necessary for certification. As previously mentioned, the 6 GHz channel offers numerous 160 MHz channels free of interference. The RBKE960 series has the three required bands and a separate 5 GHz backhaul, which makes it a quad-band with both Wi-Fi rates of up to 10.8 Gbps when all four are considered.
In order to increase range, Netgear has chosen to keep 5 GHz for backhaul. While the 6 GHz band is free of interference, power constraints prohibit communication in those channels from having the same range as the present 5 GHz channels. Having a separate backhaul means that all of the ‘fronthaul’ channels are available for client devices; the shared backhauls result in a 50% drop in available throughput for client devices for each extra node/satellite.
The advantages of Wi-Fi 6E and what users may expect from the 6GHz band have previously been put up in detail in our Nighthawk RAXE500 launch article. The Orbi RBKE960 series provides seven 160 MHz channels, which gives no interference even in dense areas or flats with many neighbors.
The RBKE960 supports 16 Wi-Fi streams, which necessitates a highly complicated antenna design. Netgear has improved on previous experience to the point that the new Orbi RBKE960 outperforms the Orbi RBK850 even for 5GHz connectivity (the larger size of the unit also plays a part in this).
The router has a 10G WAN port, three 1GbE ports, and one 2.5GBASE-T port in terms of hardware. The satellite does not have a WAN port, but it does have the other three. The 2.5GBASE-T port may be used to connect the router and the satellite through Ethernet. On the software front, the new Orbi generates four distinct Wi-Fi networks for various use-cases.
Because of the limited range of the 6GHz band, large residences may require numerous satellites to cover the whole region with 6GHz service. The Orbi app is used for installation and administration. Netgear also offers the NETGEAR Armor cyber-security suite, which includes integrated parental controls. However, some Armor capabilities are subscription-based.