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Netgear adds Wi-Fi 6E Orbi RBKE960 mesh system for the ultimate performance


It doesn’t feel like it’s that long since we’ve had Wi-Fi 6 products, but we’re already on to the next version Wi-Fi 6E. Offering an entire extra channel of bandwidth, the Netgear Orbi RBKE960 Mesh system promises even better performance with lower interference.

Rather than starting from scratch with an entirely new form of Wi-Fi, Wi-Fi 6E instead builds on the regular Wi-Fi 6 standard. At its heart, then the RBKE960 mesh system has similar 2.4GHz and 5GHz specs to the older Orbi RBK850 system, although a larger case and improved antenna positioning means that these networks will perform better.

What’s new is that the new system adds a third 6GHz channel into the mix. The main benefit of 6GHz is that the channel is less congested than 5GHz, so won’t suffer from the same interference issues caused by neighbouring networks.

With the new 6GHz channel, there are 14 new 80MHz and seven new 160MHz channels that don’t overlap; with 5GHz, there are just two 160MHz channels, which overlap, so are susceptible to interference from neighbouring networks. This generally means that performance on 5GHz networks are throttled back to avoid clashes, and it’s an even worse problem on the 2.4GHz band.

Lower range

What 6GHz suffers from is lower range than 5GHz and 2.4GHz networks. On a single router, this would be a bigger issue, as you’d only be able to use the latest Wi-Fi 6E tech if you were closer to the router. With a mesh system, the solution is more elegant, as you distribute access points via add-on satellites, putting 6GHz where it’s needed.

Netgear has provided a few ways to connect satellites together. First, there’s a dedicated 5GHz Wi-Fi backhaul, as with previous Orbi systems, so you can create a completely wireless system. Netgear has used 5GHz, rather than 6GHz, because of its greater range.

You can also use Ethernet to link satellites together, with the Orbi RBKE960 router and satellites each having a 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet port for a super-fast interconnection. Of course, you can plug supported devices into this port if you go for a wireless setup. There are also three additional Gigabit Ethernet ports for other wired devices.

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16 Streams per satellite

Each Orbi RBKE960 device has 16 Wi-Fi streams available. That’s four each on the 2.4GHz, 5GHz and 6GHz networks, plus four streams on the 5GHz backhaul. Streams can either be used individually by single devices or combined to give one device more bandwidth. The more streams you have, the further the bandwidth goes.

Netgear has also changed the way that its networks work. Previously, all Orbi mesh systems have combined the 2.4GHz and 5GHz band into one network, with connecting devices pushed to the best band based on their ability and range.

With the Orbi RBKE960, you can split the networks into individual bands (2.4GHz, 5GHz and 6GHz), plus you can have a guest network. For this model, there’s also the option to turn on a Wi-Fi 6E-only network for newer devices that support the technology, including the Samsung Galaxy Fold 3 and Lenovo Thinkpad Carbon T14.

Plus, there’s an optional IoT network, which supports the older WPA2 encryption standard, and is designed for your smart home devices only.

As with other Orbi devices, the RBKE960 supports Netgear Armor (the integrated security solution) and Smart Parental Controls (web filtering and profile management). Both have subscription services available.

10 Gigabit Ethernet internet

With the roll-out of fibre to the home, internet speeds are seeing a huge increase. Currently, we’re seeing Gigabit speeds, but internet speeds could go faster. To ensure support for the fastest speeds, the Orbi RBKE960 has a 10 Gigabit Ethernet port on the router for the internet connection. That will mean that the mesh system will definitely support the fastest internet speeds for a long time.

Price and availability

The Netgear Orbi RBKE960 is available for pre-order now on Netgear’s online store. There’s no getting around the fact that this is an expensive and premium option. A three-pack (RBKE963) gets you one router and two satellites, and costs £1499; add-on satellites (RBSE960) cost £649.99 each.

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