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.
But the new Orbi Wi-Fi 6E has enough to be a totally different beast.
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
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.
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.
(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.
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.
|Hardware||Netgear Orbi RBKE960 Series||Netgear Orbi RBK850 Series|
|Dimensions||11 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 Specs||Quad-band AXE10800||Tri-band AX6000|
|5GHz-1 4×4 AX: Up to 2.4Gbps|
| 5GHz-1 4×4 AX: Up to 2.4Gbps|
| 5GHz-2 4×4 AX: Up to 2.4Gbps|
| 5GHz-1 4×4 AX: Up to 2.4Gbps|
|2.4GHz 4×4 AX: Up to 1200Mbps|
| 2.4GHz 4×4 AX: Up to 1200Mbps|
|6GHz AXE: Up to 4.8Gbps|
|Processing Power|| Quad-core 2.2GHz CPU,|
512MB Flash, 1GB RAM
|Quad-core 2.2GHz CPU,|
512MB Flash, 1GB RAM
|AP (bridge mode) Support||Yes||Yes|
|Dedicated Wireless Backhaul||5GHz-2||5GHz-2|
|Wired Backhaul Support||Yes |
(Multi-Gig/Gigabit — backhaul band unavailable to clients)
(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)
(One router + one satellite)
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.
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.)
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).
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.