The future is now as far as Netgear’s latest Wi-Fi mesh router is concerned, with the Wi-Fi 6 Orbi RBK852 mesh network system slated to land in stores in October. Consumers with gigabit (and faster) broadband service, however, should prepare to pony up for the privilege of enjoying a super-fast home network.
Netgear first announced its tri-band Wi-Fi 6 router at CES back in January, and now the networking giant says the upcoming two-node 802.11ax kit will retail for a whopping $700 when it ships at the end of this month.
That’s about twice the price of Netgear’s previous top-of-the-line system, the Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) Orbi RBK52 two-pack, and it goes to show the premium you’ll pay if you’re looking to make the leap to Wi-Fi 6 this year.
Netgear says the Orbi RBK852 system is designed to blanket homes as large as 5,000 square feet in Wi-Fi 6 goodness. The company also says the new router’s 2.2GHz quad-core processor is three times faster than the one in the RBK50, and that it will support four Wi-Fi 6 spatial streams on its 2.4GHz network (up to 1.2Gbps of throughput), and four more on its 5GHz network (up to 2.4Gbps of throughput).
As does the RBK50 router, the new Wi-Fi 6 Orbi will operate a third 5GHz network that’s dedicated to data backhaul from the satellites to the router. But since these will be Wi-Fi 6 streams, that backhaul channel will deliver bandwidth of up to 2.4Gbps—more than twice what you’d get with wired backhaul using CAT5e ethernet cable. (But for the record, Netgear says wired backhaul is also supported.)
Unlike many mesh network systems, where all the nodes are the same, but one becomes the router when you set it up, the Orbi series will continue to be a router and one or more satellites. The RBK850 router is designed for homes with very high-speed broadband service (DOCSIS 3.1 or fiber-to-the-home/curb, for example), so it will be equipped with a 2.5Gbps WAN port that supports link aggregation. The router and satellite node (the RBS850) also have four 1Gbps LAN ports to support hardwired clients and more sophisticated home networks. Netgear will also offer an accessory for mounting the new Orbi on the wall.
Even homes that don’t have supremely fast broadband service will benefit from Wi-Fi 6 routers like the Orbi RBK850. That’s because new standard can support so many more wireless clients—smartphones, gaming consoles, laptops, and tablets—not to mention the myriad smaller devices ranging from smart speakers to security cameras, smart bulbs, and smart home hubs that are all competing for network bandwidth in modern households. There was a time when homes might have had ne or two wireless clients; now, it's not uncommon for them to have dozens.
That said, you won’t gain the full benefit of Wi-Fi 6 until more client devices move to the standard. That isn’t as critical for smart home products as it is for smartphones, laptops, and tablets. The Samsung Galaxy S10 is one of the first smartphones to have a Wi-Fi 6 adapter onboard, but a Netgear spokesperson told us we probably won’t see laptops with the new technology until Q4 of this year. There are DIY solutions, including the Killer Wi-Fi 6 AX1650, if you want to upgrade a compatible laptop (that particular part fits into an M.2 slot, and it supports only two spatial streams in each direction), but not everyone will be comfortable cracking their laptop open.
We’ll have a full review of the Orbi RBK852 mesh network system once we’ve given it a thorough test drive.