Netgear’s Orbi Pro WiFi 6 Puts Rocket Fuel Into Business Networks

Recently, I wrote about a new and affordable wireless access point from Netgear’s “Business Essentials” range. Today, I’m taking the next step up the WiFi ladder with a review of the Netgear Orbi Pro WiFi6. This WiFi-in-a-Box is aimed specifically at smaller businesses and is ideal for small and medium-sized businesses.

Orbi Pro is Netgear’s sub-brand for semi-pro mesh networking that can cover business premises with WiFi using a single network name with users’ devices being automatically passed between wireless access points seamlessly. A mesh network is a great solution for small and medium-sized businesses who need to provide robust and fast wireless connections so customers can connect to the internet with smartphones and laptops.

The Orbi Pro WiFi 6 system is based around the new AX6000 WiFi standard and can include one Orbi wireless router and up to four Orbi Pro satellite stations. Each Orbi can cover up to 3,000 square feet and will handle up to 60 users concurrently. As well as providing WiFi access for customers, the Orbi Pro system is perfect for providing wireless networking to business equipment like sales tills or security cameras.

The Orbi Pro WiFi 6 can cover larger areas and handle more users with faster throughput than previous generations of WiFi standards and is 100{a1a1c2aadef71e97d3d8dc505175168462e21e65098a9638786aefb22bafcd71} backwardly compatible with client devices using any WiFi vintage. WiFi 6 is to wireless networking what 5G is to cellular networks.

A basic Orbi Pro WiFi 6 kit includes the main router unit and one Orbi Pro satellite for establishing a base mesh network. The devices are well built and powered with external adapters that plug into any mains power outlet. The Orbi Pro also supports an Ethernet backhaul and the Ethernet. If a business premises already has a wired network installed, the Orbi Pro can sit on top of it and use the fast Ethernet connection as a high-speed backhaul. The main Orbi Pro WiFi 6 router has four Ethernet ports as well as a 2.5Gbps WAN port and two LAN ports can be aggregated into a LAG for higher throughput.

Most smaller businesses may not have an Ethernet network installed so the Orbi Pro WiFi 6 includes a dedicated wireless backhaul. Each Orbi unit harnesses the 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless bands to create a fast wireless network that users can log on to. A third 2.4GHz dedicated network is used in the background as an exclusive backhaul for sending data to and from the main Orbi Pro router. Having a robust wireless backhaul makes the Orbi and other TriBand mesh networks faster and more efficient.

Because the Orbi Pro uses the WiFi 6 standard, it offers all the advantages of the new wireless standard so it can handle more users logged on at the same time. The Orbi Pro can handle 12 streams with multiple users on each stream. WiFi 6 delivers up to 40{a1a1c2aadef71e97d3d8dc505175168462e21e65098a9638786aefb22bafcd71} faster throughput and can cope with four times the number of clients as the old WiFi 5 standard.

The Orbi Pro WiFi 6 supports up to four separate wireless networks or SSIDs. This enables a business to have one network for guests, one for office and admin use, another for IoT devices like safety cameras, sensors and thermostats, plus one for something else like an entertainment streaming service for video or music. Having a separate SSID for IoT devices is a sensible precaution as these type of devices can sometimes provide a back door access to a network. Each SSID is a VLAN (Virtual Local Area Networks) and each SSID is secure and separate from the others so that a user on one SSID can’t go snooping around for devices on another SSID.

Even better, the Guest network function only permits Northbound traffic so that users can only see the Internet and can’t snoop on any of the other users logged on to the network. This function is increasingly important because open networks in places like bars, cafés and restaurants can be insecure. Netgear even provides an Orbi WiFi 6 branded window sticker so that business owners can put a sticker in their window to reassure clients that the WiFi inside is secure, fast and safe from hackers.

Setting up the Orbi Pro WiFi 6 is easy using the Netgear Insight app. The Orbi’s IP address clashed with my main router when I tried it, and the Orbi Pro was intelligent enough to reassign a different network setting so that it didn’t clash; I didn’t have to do anything. The main Orbi Router unit connects to the user’s cable modem or router-modem with the supplied Ethernet cable that goes into the WAN port on the main Orbi Pro. Satellite Orbi Pros can be added at will, simply by pressing buttons on the main unit and the satellite so that they talk to each other and establish another node on the mesh network. It’s an easy process. Unfortunately, if you have any old Netgear Orbi Pro units, they can’t be used with the new Orbi Pro WiFi 6 as they aren’t compatible with each other. 

To get the best wireless mesh network for a business, the Orbi Pro WiFi 6 satellites need to be spread around a building. The app can help with this and an LED on each Orbi shows the user if the unit is too close or too far from the next Orbi Pro. There are also plastic brackets supplied with the Orbi Pro units so they can be mounted on a wall, safely away and high enough to provide a good signal for all client devices.

Another business feature that the Netgear Orbi Pro WiFi 6 provides is the remote Insight management service. Imagine someone who runs a business with several offices, shops or salons. Every Orbi Pro on the corporate network can be managed, updated and set up using the Insight app. This means an Orbi Pro kit can be mailed to a distant branch office and all the staff need to do is plug it in and connect it to the Internet with a cable. All the networks, security settings and other parameters can be remotely uploaded and monitored, even from the other side of the world. The Insight system can even alert an IT department if one of the Orbi Pros malfunctions. And being a mesh network, the Orbi Pro units can rebuild the mesh should one of the units develop a fault. Orbi Pros can even be rebooted or reset remotely.

I tested the Orbi Pro starter kit and I managed to get things up and running in half an hour. I would have been quicker, but I mistakenly tried using the Orbi app to set things up. The Orbi Pro needs the Netgear Insight app for setting things up. To be fair, it clearly says that on the box and in the instructions… but who reads instructions. Anyway, I got things working and the signal strength was incredibly impressive, even in my cottage with its thick stone walls. I was getting maximum WiFi speed to match my Internet connection and that was with a WiFi 5 device. With a WiFi 6 client, the speeds will be even better. All new iPhones, as well as new Mac computers in the last year, are WiFi 6 compatible. 

Verdict: The Netgear Orbi Pro WiFi 6 is a great way for a smaller business to set up an advanced mesh wireless network that has the latest WiFi 6 standard so that staff and guests can get faster Internet access with robust security. The system is easy to set up and requires minimum intervention. If things go wrong, they can be remedied remotely using Netgear’s Insight remote management service. The signal strength from the Orbi units is incredibly strong thanks to beamforming antennas and MU-MIMO support. People using the open Guest network with new Apple iPhones will appreciate the WiFi 6 support as it drains batteries far more slowly, thanks to clever power management functions built into WiFi 6. Wireless Internet access is an essential service these days and all businesses open to the public need to offer it. Some customers might even choose a café, hotel or restaurant based on the quality of the WiFi coverage on offer. Netgear hopes that Orbi Pro and WiFi 6 will be widely recognized as a badge of quality that consumers will look out for when they are choosing where to eat or stay. They could be right. We are all wedded to our smartphones and crave high-speed wireless access offering smooth video streaming or access to hi-res music services like TIDAL or Qobuz. An Orbi Pro WiFi 6 sticker in the window could just seal the deal.

Pricing and availability: NETGEAR Orbi Pro WiFi 6 Tri-band Mesh System (SXK80) is available now. The SXK80-100NAS includes one Router and one Satellite Orbi Pro and costs $769.99 / €869.99 / £799.99.

More info:

Tech Specs:

• Orbi Pro WiFi 6 AX6000 Router and AX6000 Satellite (2,400 + 2,400 + 1,200) Mbps 

• Simultaneous Tri-band WiFi 

• Radio 1: IEEE 802.11b/g/n/ax 2.4GHz – 256QAM support 

• Radio 2: IEEE 802.11a/n/ac/ax 5GHz – 1024QAM support 

• Radio 3: IEEE 802.11a/n/ac/ax 5GHz – 1024QAM support 

• Eight (8) high-performance antennas with high-power amplifiers 

• OFDMA and bi-directional MU-MIMO WiFi 6 throughput 

• TWT (Target Wait Time) for longer smartphone battery life 

• Implicit/Explicit Beamforming for 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands 

• Internet Port for Router Unit 1x 2.5Gbps Ethernet 

• Local Area Network Ports for Router Unit 4x GbE, of which two can be formed in a LAG 

• LAN ports for satellite unit 1x 2.5GbE; 4x GbE, two of which can be formed in a LAG 

• MU-MIMO for simultaneous data streaming on multiple devices 

• Four SSID wireless networks including Guest WiFi and IoT

• Flexible VLAN configuration on all four SSID WiFi networks

• Client isolation by default on Guest SSID and configurable on other SSIDs 

• WPA/WPA2/WPA3 support 

• Insight App for secured cloud and local management