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Tech review: Screaming-fast Wi-Fi for your home

By: JIM ROSSMAN Tribune News Service
June 18, 2017 Updated: June 18, 2017 at 1:52 pm
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Ah, Wi-Fi coverage.

We all need it, and lately we've been talking a lot about Wi-Fi mesh networks with multiple access points positioned around the house.

I've had great luck with mesh systems from Eero, Linksys Velop and AmpliFi by Ubiquiti. All have three mesh points to bring strong Wi-Fi to the farthest reaches of your home (and yard).

For the last month, I've been testing a simpler, two-unit system from Netgear called Orbi RBK50 ($350, www.amazon.com), and it might be the best option yet for great coverage and easy setup.

Netgear has three different Orbi systems that differ in the amount of area they can cover with Wi-Fi.

The RBK50 can cover up to 5,000 square feet. The two other Orbi systems cover less area and cost less.

The RBK50 comes with one Orbi router and a satellite. They look identical, but they're clearly labeled.

Netgear says if you connect the router to your modem and place the satellite in the middle of your house, you should be good to go.

The Orbi system uses both units to blanket your home in Wi-Fi, all using the same network name, and it's all very speedy. The router and satellite are paired from the factory, so setup is a snap.

The Orbi system uses a dedicated radio for router-to-satellite data traffic, which means you're not losing internet speed because the data is hopping from one Orbi to the other - that's a very good thing.

The Orbi router can connect to up to three satellites, but they communicate directly from router to satellite; this is not a true mesh setup where satellites can bounce traffic off each other.

Each Orbi device is 9 inches tall and looks more like a wide flower vase than an internet router. The router and satellite have Ethernet ports so you can connect wired devices to your network. I have a network attached storage device connected via Ethernet to the satellite, and I can stream video from it with no stuttering at all.

Setup

Getting the Orbi up and running could not be much easier.

Connect the router to your internet modem with an Ethernet cable, plug it in, and wait for the light to turn white and pulse on and off. Then place the satellite in the middle of your house, or in an area away from the router toward the rest of the house where you want the network to extend.

Plug the satellite into AC power and wait for its light to show its status.

The satellite will make a wireless connection to the router, and you'll see a blue light if the connection and placement are good. If the light turns amber, your connection is weak, and if the light is red, the connection failed.

If you seem amber or red, you should try to move the satellite closer to the router.

Once the router and satellite are happy and talking to each other, you can use your smartphone or computer to continue the setup.

Open the Wi-Fi settings and join the Orbi Wi-Fi network.

Then you'll surf to orbilogin.com and follow the instructions to log in to the administrator console and give your Wi-Fi network a name and a password.

You'll find all the usual Wi-Fi settings, including the ability to have a guest network so you can let your friends on the internet without them having access to your home network or your Wi-Fi password.

There are parental controls through a separate app called Genie that works on smartphones, tablets or your Windows or Mac computer.

Alexa integration

Netgear has rolled out an Alexa skill to allow some simple voice control of the Orbi from Amazon Echo devices.

Users can ask Alexa to have Orbi enable or disable the guest network, as well as rebooting the router and helping you remember the network name and password.

In use

The Orbi does what it says it'll do.

It's easy to unpack and install. You can be up and running in less than 15 minutes.

The hard part might be figuring out the placement of the satellite. If you have a long house and the modem is on one end, you want to place the satellite about midway, not all the way at the far end of the house.

I love that the satellite has Ethernet ports.

The Orbi provides the fastest connections of any of the three-unit systems I've tried.

It's truly a set-it-and-forget-it solution.

Since I set it up, I haven't given it much thought at all, and my Wi-Fi at home has been flawless.

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