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Netgear Orbi RBKE960 Preview: Quad-band, Multi-Gig Backhaul, and More!

Netgear today announced its first Wi-Fi 6E mesh system, the Orbi RBKE960 Series, which hits the proverbial 6GHz-based mesh nail on the head, at least in the hardware specs.

And I say that from experience. Before this, the latest Wi-Fi 6E standard had proven to be a thorny issue in the mesh world — when you need multiple broadcasters to cover a large area — due to the innate short range of the new 6GHz band.

Specifically, that was the case of the Asus ZenWiFi ET8 and the Linksys Velop AXE8400 — neither did better than their Wi-Fi 6 counterparts in coverage.

But the new Orbi Wi-Fi 6E has enough to be a totally different beast.

Netgear Orbi RBKE960 Series Wi Fi 6E Mesh System
The new Netgear Orbi RBKE960 Series Wi-Fi 6E Mesh System has a familiar design that blends in most homes well.

Orbi RBKE960: An uncompromising Wi-Fi 6E mesh system of many firsts

The new Wi-Fi solution’s full name is Orbi RBKE960 Quad-band Mesh Wi-Fi 6E System, and that itself includes a novelty: It’s the very first Quad-band Wi-Fi hardware!

(I had predicted the eventual availability of Quad-band hardware more than a year ago in the post about Wi-Fi 6E, but the news still caught me a bit off guard — I did not expect this to happen so soon.)

Hopefully, among other things, this will put an end to the current confusing distinction between Tri-band vs Dual-band.

Fimiliar design, app and feature set

But before we continue, keep in mind that the new Orbi RBKE960 series shares the same hardware design, feature set, and mobile app as the existing Wi-Fi 6 Orbi options, namely the RBK850 and RBK750.

Like all existing Orbi sets, the new mesh comes in two hardware units, each with a specific role. One is a router (model RBRE960), and the other is a satellite (RBSE960).

Each network must have one router unit. After that, you can use up to six satellites to scale up the Wi-Fi coverage in the form of a seamless mesh system. That’s how most mesh systems work anyway.

Netgear Orbi RBKE960 Series Wi Fi 6E Mesh System
The Netgear Orbi RBKE960 Series Wi-Fi 6E Mesh System uses the same Orbi mobile app as the rest of Netgear’s Orbi family.

Like others in the Orbi family, the new mesh has a web interface and an optional Orbi mobile app for setup and ongoing management.

Apart from managing your network, the app also offers premium add-on services called NETGEAR Armor and NETGEAR Smart Parent Controls — you do need a login account with Netgear, and all that implies. But you can also skip it and opt for the more privacy-friendly web interface.

The point is, if you have used an Orbi set before, you’ll find yourself right at home with the RBKE960 series. Or will you? Well, some of us might have a bit of a shock at what the new Orbi Wi-Fi 6E has to offer.

First Quad-band 4×4 Wi-Fi

That’s right. Orbi RBK960 has four Wi-Fi bands, including one 6GHz, two 5GHz, and one 2.4GHz. Most importantly, all of these bands are top-tier 4×4, with 16 streams and up to 10.8Gbps of bandwidth across the bands.

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(Like all Wi-Fi 6 Orbi sets, the RBK960’s 5GHz bands don’t support the 160MHz channel width and therefore cap at 2.4Gbps — more in the hardware specification table below.)

What’s the point of having four bands, you might wonder?

Other than the extra bandwidth, the Orbi Wi-Fi 6E uses one of the 5GHz bands as the dedicated backhaul in a fully wireless setup. So in a way, the RBKE960 is like you take the RBK850 and add the 6GHz band to it.

More bands also mean you have more options to segment your network. For example, you can use the 2.4GHz for low-bandwidth IoT devices and the 6GHz for your top-notch clients, such as the Samsung Galaxy S21 or any computer that has the Intel AX210 Wi-Fi chip.

Why not getting an additional 6GHz band instead?

There’s no point in doing so, at least not yet.

As its nature, the 6GHz band is clean but short in range — it’s excellent for nearby clients but terrible for those farther away or behind a wall. This band has the same bandwidth as the 5GHz, just without interference and regulation constraints — it doesn’t need to use DFS channels at all.

The point is, the 6GHz generally doesn’t work well as the backhaul, but it doesn’t have issues with bandwidth or stability, either. Consequently, there’s no need to get an additional band for it.

Netgear RBKE960 Series Wi Fi 6E Mesh System
The Netgear Orbi RBKE960 Series is available in 2-pack, 3-pack, and eventually 4-pack. And you can always get add-on satellite units.

So far, the 5GHz has remained the best band for the job of linking hardware units together, thanks to the balanced combo of high bandwidth and long range. That’s especially true in the Orbi family, where the additional 5GHz band only works as the dedicated backhaul.

And in the case of the Orbi Wi-Fi 6E, you’ll also get no use out of this extra 5GHz band if you go with the wired backhaul configuration. But now, you wouldn’t be too sad since you still have all three bands for the fronthaul to serve your clients anyway.

And that’s part of why the Orbi Wi-Fi 6E is so promising. But there’s more to it.

Hardware specifications: Orbi RBKE960 vs Orbi RBK850

Details of the Orbi Wi-Fi 6E are still stretch for now, but, for the most part, again, it’s like the Orbi RBK850 plus a 6GHz band.

HardwareNetgear Orbi RBKE960 Series Netgear Orbi RBK850 Series
ModelRouter: RBRE960
Satellite: RBSE960
Router: RBR850
Satellite: RBS850
Dimensions11 x 7.5 x 3.3 in
(27.94 x 19.05 x 8.38 cm)
10 x 7.5 x 2.8 in
(24.5 x 19.05 x 7.11 cm)
Weight (each unit) 3 lbs 2.86 lbs (1.3kg)
Wi-Fi SpecsQuad-band AXE10800Tri-band AX6000
1st Band
(Channel Width)
5GHz-1 4×4 AX: Up to 2.4Gbps
(20/40/80MHz)
5GHz-1 4×4 AX: Up to 2.4Gbps
(20/40/80MHz)
2nd Band
(Channel Width)
5GHz-2 4×4 AX: Up to 2.4Gbps
(20/40/80MHz)
5GHz-1 4×4 AX: Up to 2.4Gbps
(20/40/80MHz)
3rd Band
(Channel Width)
2.4GHz 4×4 AX: Up to 1200Mbps
(20/40MHz)
2.4GHz 4×4 AX: Up to 1200Mbps
(20/40MHz)
4th Band
(Channel Width)
6GHz AXE: Up to 4.8Gbps
(20/40/80/160MHz)
None
Processing Power Quad-core 2.2GHz CPU,
512MB Flash, 1GB RAM
Quad-core 2.2GHz CPU,
512MB Flash, 1GB RAM
MU-MIMO SupportYesYes
MIMOYesYes
AP (bridge mode) SupportYesYes
Dedicated Wireless Backhaul5GHz-2 5GHz-2
Wired Backhaul SupportYes
(Multi-Gig/Gigabit — backhaul band unavailable to clients)
Yes
(Gigabit — backhaul band unavailable to clients)
Ports (each unit)Router: 1x 10Gbps WAN, 1x 2.5Gbps + 3x Gigabit LAN
Satellite: 1x 2.5Gbps LAN, 3x Gigabit LAN
Router: 1x 2.5Gbps WAN, 4x Gigabit LAN
Satellite: 4x Gigabit LAN
US Price (at launch)$1,499.99
(One router + two satellites)
$699
 (One router + one satellite)
Netgear Orbi RBKE960 vs Orbi RBK850: Hardware specifications

Additionally, though similar-looking, the new Orbi RBKE960 hardware is slightly larger than its older Wi-Fi 6 cousin to accommodate better internal antenna design and the extra Multi-Gig ports.

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And that brings us to the fact the Orbi Wi-Fi 6E is also the first purpose-built mesh system that supports Multi-Gig wired backhaul — the most exciting notion of this new mesh for those who have wired their homes.

First mesh system with a 10Gbps WAN and Multi-Gig backhaul support

The RBRE960 router unit has two Multi-Gig ports. One is a 10Gbps WAN port, and the other is a 2.5Gbps LAN port. In a wired setup, you can use the LAN port for backhaul. On the RBSE960 satellite unit, there’s also a 2.5Gbps LAN port.

As a result, with a 2-pack, you sure can have a 2.5Gbps wired backhaul connection right out of the box. For a 3-pack or more extensive setup, though, you’ll need a switch for Multi-Gig wired backhaul. (I’d recommend the Zyxel MG108.)

(But with the all-non-compromising specs, the Orbi Wi-Fi 6E should also work well in a mixed wired and wireless backhaul configuration.)

Netgear Orbi RBKE960 Series Wi Fi 6E Mesh System
With a 10Gbps WAN port and a 2.5Gbps LAN on the router, and a 2.5Gbps WAN port on the satellite, the 2-pack Netgear Orbi RBKE962 is ready for Multi-Gig backhaul right out of the box.

So far, this hardware is the very first on the market that officially supports Multi-Gig (2.5Gbps) backhaul. In fact, the RBK960 seems to be the very first Orbi Netgear has designed with the wired backhaul in mind. (The rest was made primarily for wireless backhaul.)

Still, on this front, it’s just a bit disappointing that Netgear didn’t go all out and use the 10Gbps speed grade instead of the 2.5Gbps.

Also, I wish there were more than two Multi-Gig ports on the router or another Multi-Gig port on the satellite. That’d eliminate the need for a switch when you have three or more hardware units — you can daisy-chain them.

But I might be too far ahead of myself. Most of us might not be able to afford more than a 2-pack.

Availability and pricing

The 3-pack Orbi Quad-band Mesh Wi-Fi 6E system, which includes a router and two satellites (model RBK963), is available to preorder today in the US and Europe and will ship later this month.

Netgear says the RBK963 can cover up to 9,000 ft2 (840 m2). Generally, you can go pretty wild with “up to” — Wi-Fi coverage varies greatly depending on the environment — still, one thing is clear: You must be pretty well-off to have a home large enough to require a 3-pack.

And that’s a telltale sign because the Orbi RBKE963 is not cheap at all. It has the suggested retail price of $1,499.99 in the US, €1699.99 in the EU, and £1499.99 in the UK. You can also get extra add-on satellite units (RBSE960) for $599 (€699.99, £649.99) each.

In the future, you’ll also find a 2-pack Orbi RBKE962 that can deliver “up to” 6,000 ft2 (560 m2) — slightly less affluent, but still quite a mansion — for $1099.99 (€1199.99, £1099.99).

Netgear Orbi RBKE960 Series Wi Fi 6E Mesh System
The RBKE963B is the very first Orbi that’s available in black.

By the way, there’s another first: The Orbi Wi-Fi 6E is now also available in black, of which the model name has a “B” suffix. And Netgear is color-blind in its pricing — the 3-pack Orbi RBKE963B shares the same price as the RBKE963 above.

You’re free to spend your hard-earned cash on the new mesh — I admit it’s exciting enough. But it’s generally a wise thing to wait a bit to see how its performance pans out.

I can’t wait to find out how it’ll perform via a Multi-Gig setup, which can be a game-changer. Until the testing is done, I’ll also update this post with more information as I figure more things out. So check back regularly.

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16 thoughts on “Netgear Orbi RBKE960 Preview: Quad-band, Multi-Gig Backhaul, and More!”

  1. I wish I could be excited about this new Orbi given that the specs certainly are impressive. My past experience with Netgear Orbi’s though says that the support and stability is questionable. It will be interesting to hear how these fair over time and a few firmware upgrades.

    Reply
      • I was using a wired backhaul. My issue was with the software stability itself. The last straw for me was when the router started blocking (I didn’t have access control turned on) devices of all sorts/types of any sort of connection (wired, 2.4 or 5Ghz). Reboots did not help, and the Orbi’s were running the latest firmware for at least 3 months. Prior to that I had to rebuild the configuration multiple times and I had a router totally brick that required a replacement (warranty but I had to pay for shipping). From the Nether forum/community, I was not alone with my experiences.

        Reply
          • To be clear, they were designed for wired backhaul, it just apparently had a design flaw based on your experience. My wired backhaul worked fine from what I could tell. It showed in the Orbi app and web interface as working, or does the Orbi interface falsely report?

          • I don’t know what to say, Peter, since you don’t seem to understand nuances and you didn’t want to read. Let me put it this way: Just because you have a penis (that is, if you do — I don’t know, and I’m not talking about “you” specifically here) doesn’t mean you can be a porn star (or the other way around). Yes, wired backhaul will work, but Orbi is, so far, before this one, not “meant” for a wired environment. It’s a matter of degrees. Most if not all tri-band mesh systems are like that — like the Asus XT8. Take some time and read the post I linked, this post, and the related ones. Maybe you’ll get to the place where you find your answers, know what I mean, and understand why I say what I say. Or not. But trust me on the nuance. 🙂

          • Sounds to me like you have a sideline passion as I know of nobody that would use such a crass analogy.

            My point is that it is misleading for you state that the device was “not designed for a wired backhaul”. The “design” was in fact done otherwise there would be no option for a wired backhaul, and the backhaul would not function at all (which we know is not the case). It is your opinion that there was no design, but more accurately it is a flawed implementation, or flawed design, that should be articulated. Claiming there is no design for a wired backhaul is simply false.

          • It’s from “Harold and Kumar going to White Castle”. Check it out.

            And you’re missing a lot on the “design” notion. A Honda Civic is not designed for racing but you can race with it. Again it’s a matter of degrees. You seem to be stuck in the black and white of things. Check my linked post on the Orbi then you know why the Orbi is not designed for wired backhaul.

            But if you want to be right, then you are right. Thanks for correcting my English. I mean it.

      • LoL sorry! I got too excited.

        That’s a bummer 5Ghz doesn’t support 160 MHz.

        I will stick with my Deco X90 setup. I have FIVE of them all wired via a 2.5GbE switch for backhaul support.

        What happens in the future when I get a WiFi 6E device? Will it be able to connect to my 5Ghz band with 160Mhz channel support on the X90?

        With short range 6Ghz offers, it seems best to stay on the X90 setup to achieve gigabit over WiFi for cheaper cost. Five X90’s cost me $1,000 while the new Orbi would set me back $2,700 for 5 Orbis! Wow!

        I am getting 2Gbps Internet tomorrow. So I have some decisions to make. Your input would be appreciated.

        Reply
          • That’s what I was thinking! Thank you!

            I still have some time to return X90s as more products come until from now until January. I saw someone mention the Asus ET12 below. That seems like it’d fit the bill and “future proof” with 6E support… but, I think I will stick with X90.

  2. I can’t wait to see your review on this product. It sounds like companies are realizing a change in design with additional bands and multigig ports is needed to fully realize the potential of WIFI 6E.
    The only thing missing from this product is support for the newly allocated 5.9Ghz channels on the 5Ghz band. That would make this a game changer and allow 160 channel width like the new Asus ZenWiFI Pro ET12.

    Reply
    • There’s also the TP Link Deco XE200 supposedly coming in 2Q22. It’s specced with a 10Gbe WAN port. But the company has yet to officially put any of its Wifi 6E routers launched at CES 2021 in Jan up for pre-order so I wouldn’t put too much faith in that. Netgear’s quad band mesh router would definitely be a gamechanger in the Wifi 6E space when it’s out.

      Reply

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