NETGEAR Orbi AC3000 RBK53 Review Tri-band Whole Home WiFi system

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Unless you live in a house without walls, you are going to get "dead zones" where the Wifi signal does not travel. Wifi dead spots can be extremely inconvenient, especially if they happen to be in a room you plan to use Internet. To remedy this problem, there are various workarounds, including using Wifi extenders, powerline adapters and mesh Wifi solutions for bringing Wifi to every nook and corner of a house.
If you live in a house which is large and/or has multiple floors with thick walls like a townhouse or Victorian house, the Orbi RBK53 kit is a perfect solution because it comes with a powerful system (one Orbi AC3000 router and two Orbi AC3000 satellites) that can deliver a maximum transmission speed of 1,266Mbps (400Mbps via 2.4GHz and 866Mbps via 5GHz).
One key advantage a wireless mesh system like the Orbi provides over powerline adapters is seamless roaming, which means your connected devices automatically switch to the best satellite signal at that moment.
A lot of mesh Wifi systems are capable of very high speeds but not all can deliver stable and consistent speeds. Like most tri-band whole home Wifi systems, the Orbi RBK53 has a backhaul 5GHz band, which is dedicated for communication between the router and satellites. This additional third band makes triband mesh Wifi systems superior to dual mesh Wifi systems because it frees up congestion from the main 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Compared to other triband mesh Wifi systems, the Orbi RBK53 trumps a lot of the competition because of the 1,733Mbps wireless backhaul speed from router to satellite.
Being wireless, the Orbi RBK53 mesh Wifi systems does have the same Achilles heel as other wireless Wifi systems and, that is thick walls. If your house really has thick walls, you will likely have issues with the Orbi router feeding a signal to the Orbi satellites. Fortunately, the Orbi RBK53 supports daisy-chaining so, you can connect one satellite to the router via wireless and connect a second satellite via Ethernet as a walk-around to by-pass this issue.
The type and quality of the Ethernet cable is also important if you want to get the desired speeds. The included RJ45 Ethernet cable (AWM E212689 STYLE 2854is a 90cm long white CAT5e super flat patch cord with 32 gauge (AWG) internal wiring. Being flat, the cable is not shielded, which helps with interference, nor it has the same uptime performance as round bulky Ethernet cable. That said, considering the short length of the cable and the purpose (home use), there is no appreciable drop in performance.
The units are powered via mains electricity. Included there are three AC wall adapters attached to a long 1.50 meter long cable that terminates into a 5mm (diameter) male DC power barrel plug. These wall adapters have UK plugs with 1A input and 12V/3.5A output ratings. The AC adapters are bulky in size and have a "brick-like" design, measuring 8cm long, 8cm deep and 3cm thick.
The Orbi router (RBR50) and Orbi satellite (RBS50) units have a space age looking design and are made of plastic with a non-marking matte coated plastic finish and a laser printed Orbi etching on the front. The Orbi Satellite unit weighs 837 grams, while the Orbi router unit weighs 842 grams each. Both the satellite unit and the router unit have the same identical design, measuring 23cm tall and 19cm wide. They have a beveled shape base and top with the base being slightly wider (7cm) than the top (5cm). The units are not massively tall so, they sit very stable on a desk without feeling like they may tip over.
The Orbi RBK53 units sit on 3mm high rubber feet that allows ventilation underneath the base of the unit where the cooling vents are located. The top rim section has a gap around it that allows more ventilation and, so does the rear of the unit (above the connectivity ports), which has a line of perforated vents across it. From the front and sides of the unit, these air vents are out of sight. The top of the rim is made of hard plastic and integrates an led ring beneath it that can light up magenta, blue and amber.
The Orbi RBK53 satellites and router units have the same controls and connectivity ports, namely Sync switch, four RJ54 Ethernet ports, a USB 2.0 port, power on/off switch, DC port and reset button, which is contained inside a pinhole. Holding the reset button for a few seconds sets the unit back to factory default settings.
The Orbi satellite and Orbi router are differentiated from each other two ways. 1) Via the color of the top rim (white for the satellite and blue for the router) and 2) By the yellow Internet port on the back of the router unit. On the base of the Orbi satellites and router, there is a tag that contains key information such as serial number, network key password, Wifi network name and MAC address of the unit.
Setting up the Orbi RBK53 satellites and router units is straightforward and easy for most people with basic understanding of computers. Set up is done via the NETGEAR Orbi mobile app, which is compatible with Android and iOS devices. The Orbi app integrates on-screen prompts that guide you throughout the entire setup process from beginning to end.
Before downloading the app, you want to power on the units. You can connect the Orbi router to your current home router and the system will work just fine, although it's not ideal because this creates two different private networks (a.k.a Double NAT). To avoid this, you want to enable "modem only mode" so, your current router stops being a router and allows the Orbi to do the routing without competing WiFi signals.
During sign up, the Orbi app will ask access to your location (not required), 2-step verification setup (not required) and product identification, which is easily done by scanning the QR code of any of the units.
before speed test: outside of window
The Orbi app will also display an offer to extend the complimentary 1-year warranty and 90-day product support. The Orbi app will also install NETGEAR Armor automatically, as well as ask you if you want to install the NETGEAR Circle parental control app. The basic Circle app is free to use but, if you want further features like being able to monitor your children, you will need to subscribe to Premium and add Circle Go.
after speed test: outside of window
At some stage, during the Orbi app set up, you will have to disconnect your phones's current Wifi network and connect to the Orbi router's network (displayed as ORBI35). The Orbi may also ask to install firmware unless it has already pre-installed.
The current firmware version for the Orbi RBK53 is v2.5.1.16. When installing the firmware, bear in mind that the Orbi router's connection to your phone will disconnect so, you will have to manually reconnect. Another note on the Orbi app is that the Orbi RBK53 kit supports both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands.
You will know when everything is up and running when the units led ring lights up solid blue, which also tells you that there is a good connection between the units. If the led ring lights magenta, it means the router and satellite did not sync successfully. Amber color means the syncing was successful but the connection is not very good; hence you will need to move the satellite closer to the router.
The Orbi app isn't just a setup tool, it also lets you perform other functions such as viewing a list of connected devices, check signal strength, change Wifi network name and password, test speed and enable Guest Wifi if you want someone to use your Internet but don't want to give then your network name and password. You can also enable Traffic Meter to monitor and limit bandwidth usage, as well as enable Anywhere Access to access your Orbi remotely.
If you're on the fence about mesh Wifi, running Ethernet cables around the inside or outside of the house is another viable option, especially if you have fibre optic broadband. If you don't fancy or aren't able to run cables around the house or you live in rental accommodation, your best options are, using powerline adapters or a Mesh Wifi system. Both solutions are portable and you can expand so, you can add more units to the setup.
Which one works best is dependent on various factors. Powerline adapters work via the electrical wiring of the house so, if the wiring isn't up to par, a powerline adapter may not work. The NETGEAR Orbi AC3000 RBK53 provides a faster WiFi speed than your provider's router ever will, letting you bring Internet even to the outside of the house like a shed. Also, the Orbi AC3000 RBK53 access points only create one SSID network rather than multiple WiFi networks. You can buy the NETGEAR Orbi AC3000 RBK53 kit on Amazon. Check out the review of Netgear's new Nighthawk RAX120 Wifi 6 router.

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