Over Flowing

News for nerds

Just when you were starting to think about upgrading to a Wi-Fi 6 router, Wi-Fi 6E is here. And it’s expensive. Netgear announced its newest entry into the 6E foray today, the Orbi Quad-B and Mesh WiFi 6E RBKE960 series. This is the first quad-band Wi-Fi 6E mesh offering, but not the first Wi-Fi 6E mesh router (the $1,200 Linksys Atlas Max 6E took that honor earlier this year). Featuring a 2.4 GHz band, two 5GHz, and a brand spanking new 6GHz band, this $1,500 system also supports four different networks out of the box, including one designed exclusively for your insecure smart home devices. And if that doesn’t get you excited, they’re also releasing a limited-edition color… black.

This incredibly expensive setup ($500 more than Orbi’s already pricey tri-band Wi-Fi 6 option) supports multi-gigabit internet. Netgear claims that even if your home doesn’t have many Wi-Fi 6E clients (which it won’t), you’ll see increased speeds of up to 30 percent due to the significant number of radios crammed in (each band has 4 x 4 MIMO support and the system is rated AXE11000), plus the upgraded antenna designs. This thing is stacked. It’s also large.

“It’s a complex product and therefore challenging to get all this technology into a smaller form factor,” Ravindra Bhilave, director of product management at Netgear, told me during a briefing ahead of the announcement. Where its competitors such as Nest and Eero have more discreet, compact designs, Netgear is sticking with Orbi’s loud and proud look. At one stage, Netgear even decided to step backward in the design evolution process of the router by releasing a black version. I have clearly wasted countless hours complaining that black (and, to be fair, white) plastic boxes do not look good in most homes.

But hey — if this thing can do all it says it can and keep my son’s Xbox online while I Zoom, my husband watches Squid Game on Netflix, and my daughter hits Rec Room on the Oculus, it could be neon purple for all I’d care. Wi-Fi is the backbone of the smarthome and any upgrade to it is generally appreciated.

The ability to set up a separate smart home network on this Orbi system is also an intriguing proposition, although how it will actually be executed remains to be seen. Netgear tells me the transition between networks will be “seamless.” So, if your phone is on the regular network and you’re trying to control devices on the smart home network, there won’t be any issues. That’s a problem people run into when trying to use a Guest Network as a smart home network as guest networks are designed to be sealed off from everything else, which can cause communication issues. Netgear also pointed out that smart home devices are often “not friendly with band-steering,” and this dedicated network can make sure devices stay on one band.

Orbi is consistently highly rated for reliability and performance, even if it doesn’t blend in with the home decor as well as a Plume or offer double duty as a smart speaker like Nest or a smart home hub as Eero can. But do you need Wi-Fi 6E? Do you need to spend $1,500 for better Wi-Fi? Not now, no. But in a couple of years you might wish you had. So, if you’re in the market for a new router, it could be worth considering.

The reason is that Wi-Fi 6E brings with it a whole new band — 6GHz. This delivers more spectrum to handle multi-gigabit speeds on compatible phones and laptops (a handful of which currently support it). There’s lots more to love about Wi-Fi 6 (read our in-depth explainer for all the details), and the Orbi system even has its own 6E network, which you can set up just for those devices. Netgear opted not to use 6GHz as the dedicated backhaul, as Linksys did with limited success based on our early testing. Instead, it uses the second 5GHz band. Bhilave says the team made this choice as 5GHz has better range than 6.

Other specs include an upgraded WAN port (for your incoming internet connection) that now supports up to 10 gigabits, an additional 2.5-gigabit port on the router, plus three other ethernet ports on each device, so you can hardwire all your TVs. The satellites also support wired backhaul, like other Orbi systems. Netgear says its three-pack covers up to 9,000 square feet, and you can expand it further for $599 per satellite. The Orbi Quad-Band Mesh WiFi 6E System RBKE963 can be preordered today in the US and UK on Netgear.com and comes to other regions as WiFi 6E is approved.