In the Orbi RBKE963 review, I predicted that it was just a matter of time before the router unit of the mesh system, the Orbi RBRK960, would be available as a standalone Wi-Fi solution.
And now, you can indeed pre-order the Netgear Orbi RBRE960 AXE11000 Quad-Band Wi-Fi 6E mesh router for a “discounted” price of $599.99 and get it before the month is out — if you wait, it’ll be $699.99.
But you might want to keep waiting anyway. Else, you’d be in for a surprise. This brief review will fill in on the why if you haven’t already found out via my in-depth review of the RBKE963. Hint: Maybe you should check out that review first.
To cut to the chase, if you’re looking for a standalone router, any Wi-Fi 6E on this list will beat the Orbi RBRE960 in value, performance, or both.
Netgear Orbi RBRE960: A Quad-band standalone router that’s Tri-band in reality
To understand the Orbi RBRE960, we must go back to the RBK50, Netgear’s first Orbi set.
Netgear Orbi: A brief history of truly dedicated backhaul band
It was 2016, and with the original Orbi, the idea of “dedicated backhaul” started in earnest. The RBK50 uses Tri-band hardware, including the RBR50 router and the RBS50 satellite, and the mesh’s second 5GHz band is permanently dedicated to backhauling.
Confused about RBK, RBR, RBS, RBRE, etc.? Open this drawer!
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 2×2 bands and one 4×4 band. Example: the RBK752.
- 85: Tri-band Wi-Fi 6 hardware with all 4×4 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 4×4 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.
Specifically, this band works solely as the link between the router and satellite unit(s). This approach is Orbi’s strong point, and the RBK50 has been a very successful product.
At its launch, consumers mostly had sub-100Mbps Intenet, and the Orbi RBK50’s performance was faster than most homes’ demand.
Most importantly, without having to support clients, Netgear could engineer the second 5GHz band proprietarily to deliver exceptionally long-range and strong signals between the main router and mesh satellites.
But when it comes to Wi-Fi 6E, the dedicated backhaul approach — or the use of Wi-Fi as the backhaul as a whole, for that matter– starts to hit a snag. For a couple of reasons:
- Internet speed has improved greatly in the past decade, with Gigabit-class broadband now being commonplace.
- Wi-Fi has crazy overhead and generally can’t sustain at Gig+ or even Gigabit over a certain distance. That’s especially true in the case of the Orbi due to the lack of support for the 160MHz channel width on this band (*).
- The new 6GHz band of Wi-Fi 6E doesn’t have the range and object penetration necessary to work reliably as the backhaul band.
- Orbi products tend to be very expensive.
(*) Not supporting 160MHz can translate into better stability since the hardware doesn’t use any DFS channels.
Since 2021, things have seemed to be hard for the Orbi since its real-world performance started to no longer meet the expectations caused by the increased bandwidth demand, the hardware’s high cost, and the marketing hype. I’ve received lots of messages expressing grievances as folks wanted more, and rightfully so.
And that brings us to our Wi-Fi 6E Orbi RBRE960, the router unit of the RBKE960 series, now available as a standalone router.
It’s the first Wi-Fi broadcaster with four bands, a 2.4GHz band, two 5GHz bands, and a 6GHz band. And you guessed it; its second 5GHz band still works as the permanently dedicated backhaul. And that proved to be the router’s biggest problem.
Netgear Orbi RBRE960: Handicapped as a standalone router
As you can imagine, as a standalone router, any Tri-band Orbi router’s strong point is now its weakness.
That’s because half of its 5GHz bandwidth — the upper channels normally used for backhauling — is never available to clients. This portion of the Wi-Fi spectrum is simply never used.
And that’s also the case with the Quad-band RBRE960. When working just by itself, it’s essentially a Tri-band router with a crippled 5GHz band that has only half of the spectrum’s channels — the lower ones — available.
It’s worth noting that in July 2012 Netgear was the first networking vendor that introduced the original Tri-band hardware, the R8000 Nighthawk X6 router, and at the time told me it was a game-changer since it had double the bandwidth. Since then, there have been more broadcasters with an additional 5GHz band from the company.
Netgear recently told me it had been contemplating opening up the upper 5GHz band of its Orbi to clients, which seems challenging considering the ecosystem has evolved around this dedicated and likely proprietary backhaul. But I’ll update this review if/when that turns out to be the case.
Unsure how channels work on the 5GHz band? Open this box!
Channels allocation, the 5GHz’s DFS, and band-splitting
A Dual-band Wi-Fi 6 (or Wi-Fi 5) broadcaster (2.4GHz + 5GHz) has two distinctive sets of channels. One belongs to the 2.4GHz band, and the other to the 5GHz band.
By default, each channel is set at the lowest width, which is 20MHz. When applicable, the hardware can combine adjacent channels into larger ones that are 40MHz, 80MHz, or even wider.
Depending on your locale and hardware, the number of available channels on each band will vary, depending on how wide the band is.
In the US, the 2.4 GHz band includes 11 usable 20MHz channels (from 1 to 11) and has been that way since the birth of Wi-Fi. Things are simple in this band.
The 2.4GHz band uses channels of 20MHz or 40MHz width. The wider the width, the fewer channels you can get out of the frequency — the entire band is only so wide.
On the 5GHz frequency, things are complex — we have DFS and regular (non-DFS) channels. (On top of that, the last 5.9GHz portion of the band was reserved for other applications until late 2022 — more in this post on UNII-4.)
The 5GHz band uses channels of 20MHz, 40MHz, 80MHz, or 160MHz width. Wider channels are desirable since they deliver more bandwidth — faster speeds. And the problematic nature of DFS channels is the main reason behind Wi-Fi 6E.
Here is the breakdown of the channels on the 5GHz frequency band at their narrowest form (20MHz):
- The lower part of the spectrum includes channels: 36, 40, 44, and 48.
- The upper part includes channels: 149, 153, 161, and 165.
- In between the two, we have the following DFS channels: 52, 56, 60, 64, 100, 104, 108, 112, 116, 120, 124, 128, 132, 136, 140, and 144. (Channels from 68 to 96 are generally reserved exclusively for Doppler RADAR.)
In a dual-band (2.4GHz + 5GHz) broadcaster, the 5GHz band gets all the channels above (#1, #2). It’ll also get #3 if the broadcaster supports DFS.
In a traditional Tri-band broadcaster (2.4GHz + 5GHz + 5GHz), the first 5GHz band (5GHz-1) will get the lower channels (#1), and the 2nd 5GHz band (5GHz-2) gets the upper channels (#2).
If the broadcaster support DFS then the 5GHz-1 gets up to channel 64, and the rest (100 and up) goes to 5GHz-2. If the hardware also supports the new 5.9GHz portion of the 5GHz spectrum, it generally has three additional channels to its upper part, including 169, 173, and 177.
The splitting of the 5GHz spectrum ensures that the two narrower bands (5GHz-1 and 5GHz-2) do not overlap each other. So, here’s the deal with traditional Tri-band (2.4GHz+ 5GHz+ 5GHz):
- The good: While the total width of the 5GHz spectrum remains the same, we can use two portions of this band simultaneously, theoretically doubling its real-world bandwidth.
- The bad: Each portion (5GHz-1 or 5GHz-2) has fewer channel-forming options, making it harder for them to use the 80MHz or 160MHz channel widths required for high bandwidth. Physically, the channel-width options are now more limited than when the entire 5GHz spectrum is used as a single band.
- The bottom line: Limited bandwidth for each sub-5GHz band. In an area crowded with 5GHz Wi-Fi broadcasters, practically everywhere these days, this band-splitting practice likely adds little, if at all, in terms of extra real-world total bandwidth.
To add insult to the injury, this surviving 5GHz band of the router doesn’t have enough space to form a 160MHz channel, required to deliver fast performance. And currently, most Wi-Fi clients use the 5GHz band — it’s the most important band in any Wi-Fi broadcaster.
A crude analogy of the Orbi’s dedicated backhaul band
To understand the Orbi’s permanent backhaul concept, which Netgear calls “patented dedicated backhaul,” you can liken the mesh system’s router unit to a special 4WD pickup truck with a separate engine for the rear wheels dedicated solely to the job of pulling a trailer.
This engine makes sense and is great when the truck has a trailer attached (a mesh system) but becomes dead weight when it works just by itself (standalone router) — it’s now a full-time front-wheel-drive vehicle.
It’s probably not a good idea to consider such a truck unless you intend to use it to pull a trailer most, if not all, of the time.
The point is Netgear’s Orbi only makes sense when you need a fully wireless mesh Wi-Fi system and never when you need a standalone router, where the second 5GHz band is a big waste in terms of hardware cost and energy consumption.
So unless you have upgraded your clients to the 6GHz, the Orbi RBRE960 is actually a below-average router. In any case, as a single broadcaster, its second 5GHz band is a painful waste — it’s part of the reason why the router itself is so expensive and it still consumes electricity.
Orbi RBRE960 vs Asus GT-AXE16000: Hardware specifications
And compared to another Quad-band counterpart, namely the Asus GT-AXE16000, the Orbi RBRE960 is woefully behind despite costing the same.
Among other things, it has merely a quarter of the GT-AXE16000’s meaningful 5GHz bandwidth and the lack of a 10GbE LAN port.
|Wi-Fi Technology||Quad-band AXE16000||Quad-Band AXE11000|
Up to 1148Mbps
Up to 1148Mbps
Up to 4804Mbps
|4×4 AX |
Up to 2,402Mbps
Up to 4804Mbps
|4×4 AX |
Up to 2,402Mbps
(not available to client)
Up to 4804Mbps
Up to 4804Mbps
(permanent — never support clients)
|Mesh Role||Router or satellite||Router only|
|Gigabit Port||4x LAN||3x LAN|
|Multi-Gig Port||1x 2.5Gbps WAN/LAN|
2x 10Gbps LAN/WAN
|1x 10Gbps WAN|
1x 2.5Gbps LAN
(LAN ports 1 and 2)
(WAN + LAN4)
(WAN + USB
or any other LAN port)
|USB||1x USB 3.0|
1x USB 2.0
|Mobile App||Asus Router||Netgear Orbi|
|Remote Management||Mobile app or web interface|
(via Dynamic DNS)
|Mobile app only|
(Login account required)
|Processing Power||2.0GHz Quad-core CPU, |
256MB Flash, 2GB RAM
|2.2GHz Quad-core CPU,|
512MB Flash, 1GB RAM
(over 24 hours)
|≈ 475 Wh||≈ 420 Wh|
|Dimensions (no antennas)||10.4 x 10.4 x 2.9 in |
(26.4 x 26.4x 7.4 cm)
|11 x 7.5 x 3.3 in|
(27.94 x 19.05 x 8.38 cm)
|Weight||5.3 lbs (2.4kg)||3 lbs (1.4 kg)|
|Release Date||June 2022||October 2021|
(part of a mesh)
Familiar features and settings
Other than that, the Orbi RBRE960 shares the same setup process, network settings, and features as other Orbi routers.
As mentioned in the review of the RBKE963, you can use the web user interface to handle common network settings.
However, you must also use the Orbi mobile app if you want to access the router remotely or add more valuable features to the router via premium add-ons.
When it comes to features and settings, the RBRE960 is generally behind most other routers, including Netgear’s Nighthawk lineup, and those from competing vendors, such as Asus or TP-Link.
And things have slowly been getting worse over time. Even with the latest firmware, the Orbi RBRE960 now has nothing new compared to how it was some nine months ago. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it actually had even less in features and settings.
Netgear Orbi RBRE960: Reliable performance
I already tested the RBRE960 during the review of the RBKE960 series. For this write-up, I retested it for a couple of days with the latest firmware, and the router’s performance proved the same, within normal fluctuations.
That said, on the charts below, I reused the scores of the previous tests for the sake of consistency. And you’ll note that the router did well on the 6GHz band, but on the 5Ghz it was very modest, as expected compared to other Wi-Fi 6E routers.
It’s worth noting that the Orbi RBRE960’s performance got a big boost from its 2.5Gbps Multi-Gig LAN port — you can’t make its 10Gbps WAN port work as a LAN.
The way I test Wi-Fi routers, the Gigabit port is generally the bottleneck in the hardware without a Multi-Gig LAN port, which is the case of some on the charts.
The Orbi RBRE960’s Wi-Fi range was excellent. By itself, it could handle a large home with ease when placed in the middle. Keep in mind though, that it’s not just the range that matters, throughputs do, too.
Speaking of which, with super-fast broadband, you generally can expect around 500Mbps out of its 5GHz band. But a 6GHz client can easily get Gig+ within some 40 feet (12 m) away with a line of site. And if you use a Multi-Gig-ready computer connected to the 2.5bps LAN port, you’ll get close to the full 2.5Gbps WAN speed. That was my general experience out of a 10GbE Fiber-optic line.
What is Gig+
Gig+, or Gig Plus, conveys a speed grade faster than 1Gbps but slower than 2Gbps. So, it’s 1.5Gbps, give or take, and it’s not fast enough to be qualified as Multi-Gig or multi-Gigabit.
Gig+ generally applies to the sustained speeds of Wi-Fi 6 or 6E — via a 2×2 at 160MHz connection which has the 2400Mbps theoretical ceiling speed — or Internet speed and is not used to describe wired network connections.
So the Orbi RBRE960 is indeed a viable standalone router. But in this case, other than the Multi-Gig ports, it doesn’t have much to brag about compared with other Wi-Fi 6E counterparts. In fact, without those ports, it’d definitely be below average.
Netgear Orbi RBRE960 Wi-Fi 6E Router's Rating
Multiple Multi-Gig ports, reliable and large Wi-Fi coverage
Fast 6GHz performance
Mesh-ready with a dedicated backhaul band, or Multi-Gig wired backhaul
Easy to use
Expensive, limited 5GHz bandwidth, second 5GHz band is never available to clients
No web-based remote management, few free features
Rigid Multi-Gig ports' roles, no 2nd 10Gbps port
Limited Wi-Fi settings, mobile app required to be useful
As a standalone router, the Netgear Orbi RBRE960 AXE11000 Quad-Band Wi-Fi 6E mesh router is a large half-empty box. So, at $599.99 (after discount), it’s hugely overpriced.
Unless you plan to add a satellite later to form a mesh, which’s only applicable if you move to a larger home that’s not wired and will certainly increase the cost by another $300 or so, you shouldn’t buy this router at all, opt for one on this list instead.
Come to think about it, in the grand scheme of things, with the RBRE960, the Orbi ecosystem’s rigid practice of dedicating an entire Wi-Fi band permanently for backhauling has become outdated. This band should work in either role — fronthaul or backhaul — or both, which is the case of all other mesh brands.
That plus the trend of moving useful features from the free web interface to the mobile app to coerce users into paying more, on top of the additional expense that is their privacy risks, might spell a bigger problem for Netgear down the road.