Netgear Orbi – Making a Mesh

We have long struggled with Wifi in our home. There are a few elements working against us: 1) We have 3.5 levels and a lot of space to cover. 2) Part of that space is an excavated portion of the basement where nary a wifi signal can penetrate. 3) Part of our space is a main floor office which, for reasons unknown, is wifi Bermuda Triangle 4) We need Wifi in our garage for various devices and this exterior area has been difficult to cover as well.

In order to get internet to the nether regions of our home I had previously set up three separate networks (Seriously? How sad that your nerdy friends didn’t rescue you…). The basement & excavated area had a NightHawk X6, the office had its own NPowerLINE Wi-Fi 1000 and the upstairs had a separate NightHawk X8 which also covered the garage. Things mostly worked but the setup made it hard to share printers, seemed to confuse devices (they often switched networks or disconnected altogether), made it hard to lock down the internet (i.e. parental controls) and made certain aspects of home automatic difficult to use if you were on the “wrong” network. I knew I needed to eventually fix the problem (Sonos connect amps with 3 networks? Uh… no) but there was so simple one router solution. I dreamed about having some kind of mesh network but my ability to set one up was much too limited to undertake a project like that. And so I waited. Until one day…

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…Netgear released the Orbi. Billed as a “mesh network” system (slightly misleading) the Orbi consists of a Router base and satellite nodes. The base establishes a link with each satellite and they create a relatively seamless “mesh” network (it’s a hub and spoke system but as far as your devices are concerned it’s all the same big network).

I opted for the 3 node system which is billed as covering 8,000 square feet (I don’t have nearly that much space, but you can’t have too much Internet, I say). I positioned the base in our mechanical room next to our cable modem- that was the easy part since I didn’t really have a location choice. However, you have to position the satellites within reach of the base so I had a few placement mishaps on that end. Eventually I ended up with a node in the basement by the excavated areas, one on the main floor across from the office (inside the office was a disaster) and another in the center of the upstairs (in a bedroom).

Side note: Our network “infrastructure” was a complete mess (“So wait- you have a router plugged into a switch that goes into another router and then into your modem?”). When I installed the Orbi I took the opportunity to organize and simplify things quite a bit.

I spent a lot of time wandering around making sure that every nook and cranny of the house had acceptable internet. Speeds are much faster now and, based on a few days of use, much more reliable / stable. We may benefit from an additional satellite in the future (it looks like people are using up to four satellites) but I think for now we’re covered (nerd pun!).

We were hoping to implement Disney’s Circle, which was offered with the Orbi system. However, there is an Orbi firmware issue and the current stable version is not compatible with Circle. No word on when that will be remedied. It’s really too bad because the Netgear parental controls aren’t great (they suck). That being said we can still use the Orbi app to turn internet access to devices on an off which seems like it will be useful.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the Orbi system and feel like it’s been a great (and desperately required) upgrade. Hopefully it’s smooth sailing from here on out.

Update: 4/13/2018 – Having now had the Orbi system for a week I can say that computer connections periodically drop for no apparent reason. I’m wondering if it has something to do with the computers switching to a different satellite. It may also be an issue related to Parental Controls that I tried to set up (it was a mess- I turned them off but I’m wondering if I left something misconfigured). Such hassles.
Overall: 8/10 (dropped connections)

Update: 5/23/2018 – The Orbi system has turned into a bit of a liability. Nodes randomly lose base connection and Internet. Devices attached to the network are randomly booted. Internet speeds are wildly inconsistent. I can’t find documentation or information to remedy these situations. I think we’re moving back to our old routers. Sigh.
Overall: 4/10 (suckville)

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