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Netgear Orbi aims to kill your wireless dead zones with mesh networking

Demand for in-home Wi-Fi bandwidth continues to soar. Cable companies are rolling out faster internet connections as households increase their number of connected devices and HD video consumption. Until recently, getting high-performance Wi-Fi coverage through a large home or apartment has required some technical heavy lifting. Now, however, there are several options for easy-to-install, mesh-based Wi-Fi systems. The newest entry is a pricey, but promising, one from a major player, Netgear. Its Orbi system includes a router unit and a satellite unit for covering larger areas — up to 4,000 square feet total according to the company.

Netgear's Orbi is even color coded so you can't mix up the base and satellite unitsThe heart of Orbi is its stylish router unit that supports 802.11ac Wi-Fi at nominal speeds up to 3Gbps. Much like its competitors, including Eero and Luma that we’ve written about here before, you can configure Orbi from your smartphone or browser. The router is pre-paired with the included satellite unit, which you simply place in the center of the area you want covered and plug it in. The result is a unified network (with a single user-selectable SSID) throughout the house.

One large improvement featured in the Orbi is that it uses tri-band networking. The base unit communicates with the satellite using a dedicated 1.7Gbps 5GHz band — allowing the other two bands to be used entirely for Wi-Fi device bandwidth.

If you’re accustomed to setting up access points and know how to assign channels, and match SSIDs and passwords, then you may not care much about the ease of administration offered by this new generation of offerings like Orbi. But the convenience of not needing to run wires to your additional access points is still a big win for anyone with a structure that isn’t already pre-wired. (We’ve reached out to Netgear to ask whether additional satellite units can be added to the base unit; since coverage claims are almost always overestimated, that may be a concern for anyone considering Orbi).

The main unit and satellite both include four gigabit Ethernet ports — a welcome feature, as when using the otherwise excellent Unifi APs, you need to pair them with a hub to serve local devices. The Orbi system is pricey at $400 when it ships in September — above the pre-order prices of some of its competitors, but not out of line with their final retail prices. Clearly you are paying something for the integration and ease of use, although the tri-band feature alone may make the purchase worth it for many.

Now read: How to boost your Wi-Fi speed by choosing the right channel

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