Saturday, April 17, 2021

What it’s like to install and use the Netgear Orbi AX6000 mesh Wi-Fi 6 system


Mesh Wi-Fi is known for eliminating dead spots and boosting internet speeds. Here’s a first-hand account of how it improved one household’s connectivity.

The Netgear Orbi AX6000 mesh Wi-Fi system.

Image: Netgear

Fast internet speeds and great Wi-Fi coverage are a must for anyone working from home, or who likes gaming or steaming content. In other words, most people. 

Mesh Wi-Fi systems offer a level of coverage and speed that is far superior to single-point, stand-alone Wi-Fi routers. These systems pair a router with range-extending satellite devices, which are often called “points” or “satellites” depending on whether you’re buying from Google or Netgear or another manufacturer. 

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It was time for an upgrade in our household, since we needed to eliminate dead zones and boost the overall Wi-Fi speed. We opted for the Netgear Orbi AX6000 mesh Wi-Fi 6 system.
Wi-Fi 6

, also known as 802.11ax, is the next-generation wireless standard and it’s faster than 802.11ac, aka Wi-Fi 5.

The Orbi AX6000 uses Wi-Fi 6 standard, which is so new that most current technology isn’t yet updated for it, meaning future-proofing is a major plus of this set. 

SEE: The future of work: Tools and strategies for the digital workplace (TechRepublic free PDF)

Our particular Orbi AX6000 system, with one primary router and a single additional satellite, can cover up to 5,000 square feet, far more than 1,575 square feet of my home. Using the combined 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi bands the Orbi AX6000 can reach up to 24000 Mbps, and even has beamforming on each of the Wi-Fi bands to improve simultaneous streaming to multiple devices, taking advantage of one of the prime improvements of Wi-Fi 6. It has a dedicated wireless backhaul 5 GHz Wi-Fi link between the router and satellites for faster data transmission between the two devices for consistent performance by both the primary router and secondary satellite.

The installation process

The Orbi AX6000 is simple to install. All instructions are delivered via the Orbi app, and it walks users through each step of the process without any of the confusing complexities that once made setting up a home network a pain for anyone who wasn’t an IT tech. 

The process with the Orbi AX6000 largely boils down to resetting and disconnecting devices from the modem, plugging the Orbi router into an outlet and the modem, and letting the app do the work. The Orbi app further simplifies the setup process by advising that by keeping the network name and password the same as it was prior, all previously connected devices will be able to connect without re-entering the network information. 

Surprisingly, the process of setting up the two Wi-Fi towers included in the Orbi system was the smoothest we’ve had with any Wi-Fi installation, other than a blip of issues from the ISP servicing the house.   

Where to place the router and satellites

The placement is up to the user, though the satellite provides a convenient led indicator that changes color depending on the connection strength to the main router. We placed the main router where our previous one was located, in the room used as the office in the back center of the house, as the modem was also already there, and it is a relatively central part of the house. We placed the satellite in the living room due to the concentration of network devices used in that room, along with the adjacent bedroom. Both rooms serve as frequent workplaces, ironically far more often than the office area.

The Orbi app uses Speedtest.net to check upload and download speeds. Our speed tests confirmed that we are now getting speeds of at least 100 Mbps in every room of the house, with speeds of 238 Mbps in line of sight with the router and satellite. 

How it all works

The Orbi app has a dashboard for the maintenance and monitoring of your home network. Within it, users can see and disconnect currently connected devices at will, test speeds, manage a guest network and more.

The Orbi has greatly improved coverage areas in the house, eliminating former dead zones that are now viable workplaces. This elimination of dead zones seems to be due to an increased capacity for penetrating plaster walls, at least in comparison to our previous mesh router set. 

Using the Orbi AX6000 router, our dead zones are totally eliminated, and the reach of our network has expanded far beyond our previous limits and even current needs. In nearly every room of the house, in our garage, in our driveway, and even across the street, we can now expect download speeds up to, or often at 230 Mbps (give or take 5 Mbps), and upload speeds up to 12 Mbps (give or take 2 Mbps). These meet and even exceed the quoted speeds of our Spectrum plan. Important caveat: these speeds were observed at non-peak usage times, but the consistency of these tests suggests the reach and strength of the network will remain, even if speeds may dip somewhat at peak usage hours.

Within the rooms the satellite and router occupy, speeds are peaking at either the maximum the respective device supports, or the top speed afforded to us on Spectrum, whichever speed is lower. 

We found that coverage for the front bedroom, which previously had been practically nonexistent, now delivers speeds in the range of 100-150 Mbps. Devices in the same room as the router or satellite can hit 238 Mbps, which is, again, a speed actually above what our ISP says it provides. 

The Orbi has a $700 price tag but it’s worth it

The Orbi AX6000 is expensive at $700 for a system with one router and one satellite, but such is the price for being on the front edge of any technology. What comes with that though, is a guarantee that when Ting brings fiber internet service to our city this summer, our hardware will immediately support the 1 Gbps upload and download speeds that come with it. 

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