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Why I Returned the Netgear Orbi Whole Home Wi-Fi System

For months now I have had readers ask me to review the Netgear Orbi Whole Home Wi-Fi System. This week I walked into my local Best Buy and walked out with my $500+ (after tax) Wi-Fi system with high expectations. Sadly, though, I have returned it and went back to my Netgear Nighthawk.

Now to be clear I love Netgear products and anyone who has followed the site and our Q&As know that Netgear is the brand I highly recommend for routers; however, this one had a few major flaws that resulted in it not being the right fit for us. I even went on to replace the Orbi with a Netgear product.

Here is a video I made about why I returned it:

So what is the Netgear Orbi?

The Netgear Orbi has a set of satellite routers that help make sure you have strong Wi-Fi signal around your house. One of the main causes of buffering is weak Wi-Fi.

So why did I want to test out the Orbi Whole Home Wi-Fi System?

I do most of my work for Cord Cutters News from a home office located over our garage. In order to have access to Ethernet I put my modem and router in the office. That means it’s in a poor location because the best place to locate a Wi-Fi router is in the middle of your house. For my house we did see some weak signals in the living room, which sits as far as possible from my office. I also noticed that the back porch has weak Wi-Fi.

I paid to get the two satellite version so I could put one satellite repeater in the center of the second floor and one in the center of the first floor.

What issues did I have?

My main issue was slow Wi-Fi speed caused by two issues.

First, my Roku TV in the living room kept connecting to the main router located on the far side of the house. This meant I was once again seeing a weak signal in the living room even though I had an Orbi satellite unit sitting much closer to the Roku TV.

The second issue was with its triband. There really are two bands: 2.4GHz and 5GHz. The 5GHz is the one you want for gaming and streaming because it gives a far faster speed. The Netgear Orbi is a tri-band Wi-Fi system, meaning it has one 2.4HGz for slower speeds but better range and two 5GHz for faster speeds but shorter range.

The Orbi is said to have a smart system that will select the best network for each device; however, my Google Pixel, laptop, and Roku TVs all kept being forced on the 2.4GHz system. This means my speed was a fraction of what it had been with my old Netgear Nighthawk.

As you can see in this speed test—the top one being 5GHz from the Nighthawk and the bottom speed being from the Orbi in the same spot in my house—that there is a huge difference in speed.

Now, unfortunately, there is no way to manually set the Orbi to let you select a 2.4 or 5GHz network. That seems like a strange move because most routers today will create two networks to select 2.4GHz and 5GHz. You can hack the router, but I highly recommend unless you know what you are doing not to try it. A little search on Google and Reddit will show my issue is not unusual.

After testing the Orbi in my house I found buffering and poor streaming caused by the 2.4GHz network and weak signal. At first I thought this was a glitch, but according to Netgear’s help pages and others online say this is how it is meant to work.

All of this could be fixed if Netgear would allow two simple fixes.

First, allow a way to manage what devices connect to what device. If I could force my living room Roku TV to the satellite, the weak Wi-Fi would have been resolved; however, the Orbi kept forcing it to the main router on the other side of the house.

Second, if the Orbi had the ability to have two networks I could have manually selected the 5GHz network. Sadly, Orbi has a “we know best” view and will tell you what it thinks is best for you even when it means slower speeds.

I do plan to test other whole home Wi-Fi networks. Unfortunately, the Orbi was just not the right fit for my house. These issues are simple and hopefully, with a software update, Netgear will give users more control over the Wi-Fi network it creates. Until that happens this is not a device I can recommend.

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10 Responses to Why I Returned the Netgear Orbi Whole Home Wi-Fi System

  1. Dogman September 24, 2017 at 9:14 am #

    Luke: where did you put the new Netgear router – in your office over the garage or as a second router in the main home space?

  2. Lon Dailey September 24, 2017 at 10:38 am #

    I have the Orbi and it has been great for us. I previously had all Apple networking equipment and my download speeds were in the 60’s Mbps. When I switched to Orbi that increased to 110 to 120 Mbps whether I’m next to the router in my office or in my backyard (the furthest point away from the router but close to the satellite). It’s the best and fastest networking system I’ve ever owned. I have a lot of wireless equipment installed: home alarm, thermostat, automated lights, 3 streaming device and more. It handles it all with no slow down in wireless speeds.

  3. tbird2252 September 24, 2017 at 3:40 pm #

    Hi Luke, Could you have purchased a defective Orbi? I had the same problems with coverage using another router. Installed the Orbi in May. Had no issues setting the input to 5G. Only using one satellite. Very satisfied with the product. Before purchasing the Orbi read on several message boards people had issues when they used multiple satellites. However, you did mention that you tried to use only one…IMO, you may have received a defective unit.

  4. sibe74 September 25, 2017 at 12:33 am #

    I have had the Orbi for 2 months now and have had the exact opposite experience as you. I was getting 2-5 Mbps parts of my and nothing in my back yard before my Orbi. Now I get my full 175 Mbps service on devices that support 5ghz anywhere in the house and most of the yard. When driving home my phone will connect almost half way down the block. My house is a 2 story 2400 sqft house and base with 1 satellite system was plenty.

  5. Jim Fennell September 25, 2017 at 7:29 am #

    I installed Orbi in a 2400 square foot house with router in the basement and satellite on the second floor – we’ve also seen a big boost in network performance over a recent vintage Apple time capsule. Streaming to ATV’s and Rokus has been rock solid, even with several running simultaneously.

    Sounds like you have a unique situation, perhaps you’d have better results with the router in the house and satellite in your office? Also, I’ve read that too many satellites may actually degrade performance so, depending on your home’s size, one satellite might work better.

  6. Billy Jingles September 25, 2017 at 7:44 am #

    Sounds like you might have some interfernce from neighboring networks.

  7. Billy Jingles September 25, 2017 at 9:05 am #

    I should also mention that these wireless meshed systems rely on wifi itself to connect the satellites. They usually take up one of the radios to do so and actually result in slower over all speed. The only way to get around that is to set each one up to be wired with a central controller, which is how most office environments work. This article explains it pretty well https://www.howtogeek.com/290418/what-are-mesh-wi-fi-systems-and-how-do-they-work/

  8. Dan September 25, 2017 at 9:31 am #

    How is this different than just having multiple routers connected by LAN? Or is that it, no need for running ethernet cables? Also, maybe it handles channel frequencies automatically? I have 3 routers covering about 2900 Sq. Ft. over 4 floors (including basement) and have very few issues. I have one router as the DHCP server, and the other routers with DHCP disabled. All have the same SSID and I have the channels frequencies configured in a way that they do not interfere with each other. I’m not a network engineer, but just configured it with trial and error and googling. I’m always searching for a better solution if one exists, but my setup is 1/2 the cost of many mesh wireless systems I have seen.

    • Micah Gonzales September 25, 2017 at 10:56 am #

      Dan I think this is one of the main benefit of products like Orbi, designed to link wirelessly for cases where you can not link then with an Ethernet cable. built with the idea of one antenna dedicated to connecting to the other routers and another antenna for your wireless clients.

  9. Steven Leahy January 25, 2018 at 8:44 pm #

    A couple things: Really there is only one 5GHz band available for devices. The other 5GHz band is dedicated for backhaul communication between the Orbi satellite and router, and your clients cannot connect to that band.

    Regarding the slow speeds: Unless your Orbis are worlds apart, you should be getting speeds at the satellite very close to what you’d get at the main router. Make sure you have daisy chaining turned off in the settings. This is a newer feature in the more recent firmware releases which allows one satellite to connect to another satellite rather than the main unit. I found my second satellite often connected to the first satellite instead of the main router when daisy chaining was enabled, even though both were about the same distance from the main Orbi. When it connected like this, it connected to the first satellite on 2.4 GHz instead of the normal 5GHz connection it would have with the main unit. Absolutely killed the speeds and I was getting 30 Mb/s instead of my usual 250-300 Mb/s. When I turned off daisy chaining, the issue went away.