Netgear today announced its arguably most consequential mesh system, the Wi-Fi 7 Orbi 970 Series.
Right off the bat, the new hardware is a sticker shock, carrying a retail price of $2299.99 for a 3-pack (model RBE973S) that includes a router (RBE971) and two satellites (RBE970). Alternatively, you can pick a 2-pack (RBE972) for $1699.99. And an add-on satellite goes for $899.99 a pop.
So, the new Orbi is expensive. And that's the bad news.
Over the recent years, among home networking vendors, Netgear has been the pioneer in breaking the pricing records, starting with the $770 2-pack Orbi SXK80 — which, in hindsight, turned out to be such a deal! — then the $1500 3-pack Orbi 960 series, and most recently, the $1000 M6 Pro 5G travel router.
The good news is that things will likely only get better from here. The new Orbi 970 Series has lots to offer, thanks to its support for the latest Wi-Fi standard and the all-out Multi-Gig approach.
Dong's note: This post was updated on September 20, 2023, with a correction on the Orbi 970 Series's new naming convention.
Netgear Wi-Fi 7 970 Series: The first Orbi that’s truly multi-Gigabit
Of the two Decos, the latter is more similar to this new Orbi, though still significantly different. That's because, like most previous Orbi sets, the new 970 Series also has two 5GHz bands plus a 2.4GHz and the latest 6GHz. On the other hand, the TP-Link BE95 is the first Quad-band hardware with the 2.4GHz + 5GHz + 6GHz + 6GHz configuration. It has two 6GHz bands instead of two 5GHz ones.
So, at a glance, hardware-wise, the new Orbi 970 seems like the Wi-Fi 6E Orbi RBKE 960 Series, plus the support for Wi-Fi 7. Looking closer, though, the 970 Series is much superior to its older cousin than the model numbers in their names suggest. And that starts from the network ports.
Similar to the case of all so-far announced Wi-Fi 7 hardware, the new Orbi 970 Series forgoes Gigabit ports to go full multi-Gigabit. Specifically, the router unit includes two 10GBASE-T and four 2.5GBASE-T ports, and the satellite has one 10GBASE-T and two 2.5Gbp ports. In other words, 2.5Gbps is the slowest wired connection you'll get from it.
Unlike the TP-Link Decos, the new Orbi 970 has no support for SFP+, which is a minor point in most cases.
BASE-T vs SFP+
This type is known via a misnomer called Registered Jack 45 or RJ45. So we'll keep calling it RJ45.
On the other hand, the SFP or SFP+ (plus) port type is used for both telecommunication and data communication, mostly in enterprise applications. SFP stands for small form-factor pluggable and is the technical name for what is often referred to as Fiber Channel or Fiber.
For data communication, an SFP+ port has speed grades of either 1Gbps or 10Gbps. The older version, SFP, can only do 1Gbps, though it shares the same port type as SFP+. This type of port standard is more strict in compatibility and more reliable in performance.
While physically different, BASE-T and SFP/+ are parts of the Ethernet family, sharing the same networking principles and Ethernet naming convention -- Gigabit Ethernet (1Gbps) or 10 Gigabit Ethernet (a.k.a 10GE, 10GbE, or 10 GigE).
Generally, you can get an adapter to connect a BASE-T device to an SFP or SFP+ port. Still, in this case, compatibility can be an issue -- a particular adapter might only work (well) with the SFP/+ port of certain hardware vendors.
The BASE-T wiring is more popular thanks to its simple design and flexibility in speed support. Some routers and switches have an RJ45/SFP+ combo which includes two physical ports of each type, but you can use one at a time.
The table below shows how the Orbi 970 Series differentiates itself from the previous RBKE960.
Netgear Orbi 970 Series vs Orbi RBKE960 Series: Hardware specfications
|Netgear Orbi 970 Series||Netgear Orbi |
|Model||Router: RBE971 |
Router + Satellite(s)
Router + Satellite(s)
|Dedicated Backhaul Band|
Enhanced via MLO
(5GH-1 band unavailable to clients)
(5GH-2 band unavailable to clients)
|Multi-Gig Wired Backhaul|
(without a switch)
|10Gbps (first satellite)|
2.5Gbps (2nd satellite)
|2.5Gbps (first satellite only)|
|TBD||11 x 7.5 x 3.3 in|
(27.94 x 19.05 x 8.38 cm)
|Weight||TBD||3 lbs lb (1.36 kg)|
|Wi-Fi Designation||Quad-band BE27000||Quad-band AXE11000|
|1st Band |
|4×4 AX: Up to 1147 Mbps|
|4x4 AX: |
Up to 1,147Mbps
|2nd Band |
|4×4 BE: Up to 8647 Mbps|
Up to 2400Gbps
|4×4 BE: Up to 5765 Mbps|
|5GHz-2 4×4 AX:|
Up to 2400Mbps
|4×4 BE: Up to 11530 Mbps|
|4×4 AXE: |
Up to 4800Mbps
|Mobile App||Netgear Orbi||Netgear Orbi|
|Login Account Required||Yes||Yes|
|Web User Interface||Yes||Yes|
subscriptions via mobile app
subscriptions via mobile app
(as a router or a mesh)
(as a router or a mesh)
|Gigabit Port||None||Router: 3x LAN |
Satellite: 3x LAN
|Multi-Gig Port||Router: |
1x 10GBASE-T WAN,
1x 10GBASE-T LAN,
4x 2.5GBASE-T LANs
1x 10GBASE-T LAN,
2x 2.5GBASE-T LANs
1x 10Gbps WAN,
1x 2.5Gbps LAN
Satellite: 1x 2.5 Gbps LAN
|Processing Power||Quad-core 2.2GHz CPU,|
4GB flash, 2GB RAM
|Quad-core 2.2GHz CPU,|
512MB Flash, 1GB RAM
|Release Date||September 2023||October 2021|
|US Retail Price|
$899 (add-on satellite)
$599 (add-on Satellite)
Orbi 970 Series: A more streamlined naming convention
As you might have noticed, with the Orbi 970 Series, Netgear has decided to streamline the naming of the hardware. Specifically, it does away with the "K" designation -- for "kit" -- of the past mesh sets, uses only the number for the series name, and differentiates the hardware by a single digit.
Netgear Orbi: The past naming convention
Generally, though not always, a Netgear Orbi set's model number starts with RBK -- RBK50, RBK13, RBK752, RBK852, and so on. Those supporting Wi-Fi 6E have an additional E, like the case of the RBKE960.
Dissecting the Orbi’s model name
There are three telling things in an Orbi model name: The first letter, the third (and 4th) letter, and the last digit. The 2nd letter is always the same -- B is for Orbi.
- The first letter (often R, C, or N, but there might be more) means the hardware's character.
- R: It's a regular (standard) setup, be it a single router or a mesh system. So, for example, RBK852 means this one is a standard mesh system.
- C: There's a cable modem involved. For example, CBK752 is a mesh system in which the router unit has a built-in cable modem.
- N: This is when the router unit is cellular-capable. N here is short for NR, or "new radio," a fancy name for cellular Internet.
- The 3rd letter (often K, R, or S) means the hardware unit's exclusive role.
- K = Kit. This means you're looking at a multi-unit package that includes one router and at least one satellite. So RBK752 refers to a kit of more than one hardware unit. How many? See the last digit below.
- R = Router unit. For example, RBR750 is the router unit of the RBK750 series.
- S = Satellite unit. For example, RBS750 is the satellite unit of the RBK752.
- The 4th letter (if any): That'd be the letter E which stands for Wi-Fi 6E, like the case of the recently announced RBKE960 series.
- The last digit (often 0, 2, 3, etc.) shows the package's total hardware units.
- 0 = Single hardware unit (either a router or a satellite.) Generally, it signifies a series of hardware releases.
- 2 = A 2-pack (router + one satellite). For example, RBK752 is a 2-pack cable-ready mesh that includes a CBR750 gateway and an RBS750 satellite.
- 3 = A 3-pack (router + two satellites). The RBK853 is a 3-pack mesh system with one RBR850 router and two RBS850 satellite units.
- The last letter or letters (if any): Most Orbi hardware doesn't have this last letter. For those that do, it's intended to add some extra, such as:
- The middle digits (often 5, 75, 85, 96, etc.) are Netgear's in-house designations to show the hardware's Wi-Fi specs. They are a bit arbitrary. Specifically:
- 5: This is for Wi-Fi 5. For example, the original RBK50 is a Wi-Fi 5 Orbi.
- 75: This is for a tri-band Wi-Fi 6 with two 2x2 bands and one 4x4 band. Example: the RBK752.
- 85: Tri-band Wi-Fi 6 hardware with all 4x4 bands. Example: the RBK850 series.
- 86: The same as the RBK850 series with the router unit having a 10GbE Mult-Gig port (instead of 2.5GbE) -- the case of the RBK860 series.
- 96: Quad-band Wi-Fi 6E with all 4x4 bands. Example: the RBKE960 series.
If you're still confused, you're not alone, but generally, you get the idea. For example, the RBRE960 is the standard high-end Wi-Fi 6E router unit of the Orbi RBKE960 series.
As a result, we have:
- Orbi 970 Series is the overall name of the new product.
- Orbi RBE97x is the name of the hardware, with "x" being the deciding factor, specifically:
- X = 0: RBE970, which is the satellite unit -- it can't work by itself.
- X = 1: RBE971, which is the router unit -- it'll work as a standalone router.
- X = 2 or a higher number: This indicates a mesh system that includes a router and an X - 1 number of satellites. So:
- RBE972 indicates a 2-pack mesh: a router + one satellite.
- RBE973 indicates a 3-pack mesh: a router + two satellites.
After that, mesh sets have two suffixes: "B" for the black color and "S" for security, hinting that the hardware includes a one-year trial of Netgear Armor. So the RBE97SB is a 3-pack mesh in black color with built-in one-year security protection.
While the new naming convention is a bit shorter and makes more sense, it'll likely cause the whole ecosystem to be more confusing for the foreseeable future.
Orbi 970 Series: The support for early Wi-Fi 7 and the Enhanced Dedicated Backhaul
Wi-Fi 7 support is one of the Orbi 970's biggest selling points. The upcoming new standard has major improvements to be a game-changer in wireless networking. However, it hasn't been fully certified, with a big part remaining a mystery.
If you're new to Wi-Fi 7, the cabinet below includes some quick highlights.
The major improvement of Wi-Fi 7
1. The all-new 320MHz channel width
The first is the new and much wider channel width, up to 320MHz or double that of Wi-Fi 6/6E.
This new channel width is generally available on the 6GHz band, with up to three 320MHz channels. However, Wi-Fi 7 can combine portions of the 6GHz and 5GHz bands to create this new bandwidth -- more in the Multi-Link Operation section below.
Details of Wi-Fi channels can be found here, but the new channel width generally means Wi-Fi 7 can double the base speed, from 1.2Gbps per stream (160MHz) to 2.4Gbps per stream (320MHz).
So, in theory, just from the width alone, a 4x4 broadcaster 6GHz Wi-Fi 7 can have up to 9.6 Gbps of bandwidth -- or 10Gbps when rounded up. But there's more to Wi-Fi 7's bandwidth below.
Depending on the configuration, Wi-Fi 7 routers and access points will be available in different speed grades, including those offering bandwidths higher or lower than 10Gbps on the 6GHz band.
Wi-Fi 7 also supports double the partial streams, up to 16. As a result, technically, a 16-stream (16x16) Wi-Fi 7 6GHz band can deliver up to over 40Gbps of bandwidth, especially when considering the new QAM support below.
Like Wi-Fi 6 and 6E, initially, Wi-Fi 7 will be available as dual-stream (2x2) and quad-stream (4x4) broadcasters and dual-stream clients.
Going forward, the standard might have 8x8 broadcasters and single-stream or quad-stream clients.
Again, you need a compatible client to use the new 320MHz channel width. Existing clients will connect using 160MHz at best. In reality, the 160MHz will likely be the realistic sweet-spot bandwidth of Wi-Fi 7, just like the 80MHz in the case of Wi-Fi 6.
2. The 4K-QAM
QAM, short for quadrature amplitude modulation, is a way to manipulate the radio wave to pack more information in the Hertz.
Wi-Fi 6 supports 1024-QAM, which itself is already impressive. However, Wi-Fi 7 will have four times that, or 4096-QAM. Greater QAM means better performance for the same channel width.
As a result, Wi-Fi 7 will have a much higher speed and efficiency than previous standards when working with supported clients.
Wi-F 7 vs Wi-Fi 6/6E: The realistic real-world speeds
With the support for the wider channel width and higher QAM, Wi-Fi 7 is set to be much faster than previous standards.
The table below summarizes what you can expect from Wi-Fi 7's real-world organic performance compared to Wi-Fi 6E when working on the 6GHz.
|Wi-Fi 6E||Wi-Fi 7|
|Max Channel Bandwidth|
|Number of Available Channels||7x 160MHz or 14x 80MHz channels||3x 320MHz or 6x 160MHz channels|
|Max Number |
of Spatial Streams
(theoretical on paper / commercially implemented)
|8 / 4||16 / 8 (estimate)|
|1202Mbps (at 160MHz)|
600Mbps (at 80Hz)
≈ 1.45 Gbps (at 160MHz)
|Max Band Bandwidth|
(theoretical on paper)
|Commercial Max Band Bandwidth Per Band|
|Actual Available Max Real-word Negotiated Speeds(*)||2402Mbps|
(via a 2x2 160MHz client )
(via a 2x2 80MHzclient)
|≈ 11.5Gbps |
(via a 4x4 320MHz client)
(via a 2x2 320MHz client or a 4x4 160MHz client)
(via a single stream 320MHz client or a 2x2 160MHz client)
(via a single stream 160MHz client or a 2x2 80MHz client)
(*) The real-world sustained speeds depend on the client and environment and generally are much lower than negotiated speeds. Wi-Fi 6/6E has had only 2x2 clients. Wi-Fi 7 will also use 2x2 clients initially, but it might have 4x4 and even single-stream (1x1) clients.
3. Multi-Link Operation
Multi-Link Operation, or MLO, is the most exciting and promising feature of Wi-Fi 7 that changes the norm of Wi-Fi: Up to Wi-Fi 6E, a Wi-Fi connection between two direct devices occurs in a single band, using a fixed channel at a time.
In a nutshell, MLO is Wi-Fi band aggregation. Like Link Aggregation (or bonding) in wired networking, MLO allows combining two Wi-Fi bands, mostly 5GHz and 6GHz, into a single Wi-Fi network (SSID) and connection. The bonded link delivers higher bandwidth and reliability.
MLO only works at its full potential with Wi-Fi 7 clients, and in this case, it can be a game-changer in a wireless mesh network. We can potentially count on having no signal drop or brief disconnection. And it's also when seamless handoff (or roaming) can become truly seamless.
On top of that, on each band, a connection can also intelligently pick the best channel, or channel width, in real time. In other words, it can channel-hop, just like Bluetooth, though likely less frequently.
This new capability will help increase the efficiency of Wi-Fi 7's range, allowing all its bands to deliver faster speed over longer distances than previous standards.
In more ways than one, MLO is the best alternative to the existing so-called "Smart Connect" -- using the same SSID (network name) and password for all the bands of a broadcaster -- which doesn't always work as smartly as expected.
But MLO is not all perfect -- a few things to keep in mind:
- MLO only works with Wi-Fi 7 clients. Older clients, such as Wi-Fi 6 or 6E, will still use a single band at a time when connecting to a MLO SSID.
- MLO requires the WPA3 encryption method and generally won't work with Wi-Fi 5 or older clients.
- The reach of the combined link (of 5GHz and 6GHz) is as far as the range of the shorter band.
By default, the 6GHz band has just about 75% of the range of the 5GHz when the same broadcasting power is applied. That said, MLO can only be truly meaningful with the help of Wi-Fi 7's next feature, Automated Frequency Coordination.
4. Automated Frequency Coordination
Automated Frequency Coordination (AFC) applies only to the 6GHz band, which is the fastest yet the shortest range compared to the 5GHz and 2.4GHz. It's an optional feature -- it's not required for the general function of a Wi-Fi 7 broadcaster.
At any given time, there can be existing applications already using the spectrum. For example, fixed satellite services (FSS) or broadcast companies might have already had called dibs on certain parts of the 6GHz band. A new Wi-Fi broadcaster must not impact those existing services -- a concept similar to DFS channels in Wi-Fi 6 and 5.
That's when AFC comes into play. The idea is that all new 6GHz broadcasters check with a registered database in real time to confirm their operation will not negatively impact other registered members. Once that's established, the broadcaster creates a dynamically exclusive environment in which it can operate without the constraint of regulations like the case of Wi-Fi 6E and older standards.
Specifically, the support for AFC means each Wi-Fi 7 broadcaster can use more power and better flexible antenna designs. How much more? That depends.
But it's estimated that AFC can bring the broadcasting power up to 36 dBm (from the current 30 dBm max) or 4 watts (from 1 wat). It's safe to say AFC will help the 6GHz band to have a comparable range to the 5GHz band -- about 25% more.
Before you get all excited, this feature requires certification, and its availability is expected to vary from one region to another. It won't be available in the US before late 2023, if not after. All hardware released before that is said to be capable of handling AFC, which can be turned on via firmware updates.
A crude AFC analogy
Automated Frequency Coordination (AFC) is like checking with the local authorities for permission to close off sections of city streets for a drag race block party.
When approved, the usual traffic and parking laws no longer apply to the area, and the organizers can determine how fast traffic can flow, etc.
Specifically, the Orbi 970 supports wider channel width, higher QAM, and Multi-Link Operation (MLO) to be much faster. However, the crucial Automated Frequency Coordination (AFC) feature is still not yet there. So far, that's been the case for all Wi-Fi 7 hardware released this year -- they all support Wi-Fi 7 partially at launch but include enough hardware to be gradually made whole, when applicable, via firmware updates.
Without AFC, the 6GHz band's range remains much shorter than the 5GHz. As a result, an MLO link will not be effective over a long distance or in an environment with thick walls. Ultimately, the link relies on the reach of the 5GHz band.
And this MLO link is what Netgear has built the 970 Series' Enhanced Dedicated Backhaul on. Technically, per Netgear, thanks to the bonded bandwidth of the two 6GHz and 5GHz bands, this link can deliver up to 10Gbps bandwidth, which is great for linking the hardware units. But for now, that's only the case when they are placed close to each other, preferably within a line of sight.
Farther out or in an undesirable environment, this backhaul link is about as good as that of the 5GHz-2 band, which is similar to the case of any previous Wi-Fi 6 and 6E Orbit.
At the end of the day, how this new wireless backhaul link pans out remains to be seen. One thing is for sure: for best performance, wired backhauling is a must. And the new 970 Series also offers that in the top tier 10Gbps bandwidth, though not in all cases.
The almost-full 10Gbps wired backhauling capability
Since there are two 10Gbps ports on the router unit and only one on the satellite, the new mesh system only has 10Gbps wired backhauling with a 2-pack out of the box. When you use a second satellite, it'll get a 2.5Gbps backhaul unless you get a 10Gbps switch.
The new mesh would be an ideal wired system if either of the hardware units, the router or the satellite, had one additional 10Gbps port. Considering the large physical size and the existing number of ports, I wish that was the case. For now, it's such a missed opportunity. But the 970 Series's still much better than any Orbi I've seen on the port front. And a 2.5Gbps wired backhaul is plenty fast.
What has remained the same, however, is the fact that even when you use wired backhauls, the 5GHz-2 band used for the wireless Enhanced Dedicated Backhaul mentioned above is still not available to clients. It's there as the dedicated backhaul band in case you put a wireless satellite in the mix. This has been the case with all Orbis, making them a bit of a wrong choice for a wired environment.
Netgear told me that using an RBR970 unit as a standalone would be the only situation where this band is open to the client. That's good news -- it wasn't the case with the RBRE960 router. But it remains to be seen.
Netgear 970 Series: Most powerful (and expensive) but still a familiar Orbi
Despite the support for Wi-Fi 7 and Multi-Gig ports galore, the Orbi 970 is a familiar mesh member, and that's a good thing. If you have used an Orbi before, you'll find yourself at home with it.
Specially, you can expect the following:
- Pre-synced hardware with easy setup: You only have to set up the router unit. After that, the satellite(s) will automatically be part of the system when plugged in. You only need to add additional add-on units manually.
- You can use the local web user interface to set up and manage the system. Still, the Orbi app is recommended and required for certain features, such as the year-long free trial of Armor Protection, which includes parental control, QoS, VPN, remote access, etc.
- Multiples SSDs to segment the networks. However, the Wi-Fi customization for each SSID will be relatively limited.
Other than that, you can expect the new mesh system to deliver large coverage, though that always depends on the environment, hardware placement, and the type of backhauling. Netgear says a 3-pack can blanket up to 10,000 ft2 (929 m2), but that claim is a stretch. Still, it's safe to say the 970 Series will deliver the best coverage and performance among Orbis to date.
Netgear says you can buy the new Orbi 970 Series today. The classic white version is available on Netgear's website and retailers, while the black version can only be found at Netgear's store.
The new mesh is as exciting as it is shockingly expensive, if not more. And chances are, it has enough to deliver true multi-Gigabit performance in most cases. That said, I won't blame you for getting one today.
But if you can wait, I'm in the process of acquiring a set for hands-on testing. Check back soon to see how its performance pans out. And there's no rush -- Wi-Fi 7 likely will not be fully certified until early next year. So, you have time to start saving and, most importantly, getting your home wired. Wired backhauling is the only way to truly enjoy Wi-Fi 7.
If you're new to Orbi, below is the rating of the Wi-Fi 6E RBKE960 Series for reference.
Netgear Orbi RBKE960 Series' Rating
Powerful hardware with Quad-band Wi-Fi and Multi-Gig wired backhaul support
Excellent Wi-Fi coverage, fast performance
Multiple Multi-Gig ports
More Wi-Fi networks than previous Orbis, including two additional virtual SSIDs
Easy to use
No web-based Remote Management, few free features; mobile app (with a login account and even subscriptions) is required to be useful
Rigid Multi-Gig ports' roles, few Multi-Gig ports
The 2nd 5GHz band is unavailable to clients even with wired backhaul; no 160MHz channel width on 5GHz
Limited Wi-Fi customization, bulky design