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Hands-On

Hands on: Netgear Cable Orbi modem & mesh Wi-Fi router

The Cable Orbi, the latest in Netgear's Orbi line, attempts to kill three birds with one stone: cable internet, Wi-Fi, and mesh access.

Netgear Cable Orbi



If you're not familiar with the Orbi or other mesh Wi-Fi routers, the gist is that on top of a primary router, you can connect one or more satellite units that seamlessly widen your network without requiring multiple SSIDs, as with normal extenders. The Cable Orbi comes with a single satellite, and can in theory cover as much as 4,000 square feet.

The Netgear Orbi app for iPhones and iPads does a pretty good job of guiding users through the setup process, which is of course more complicated for the Cable Orbi since you'll need to contact your ISP and supply them with a MAC address and serial number. Set aside some time for installation — even if your hardware works perfectly, you might still run into provisioning problems with your ISP, and you may have to reconnect household devices.

Thankfully, we haven't run into the HomeKit issues plaguing some Wi-Fi-only Orbi models.

We'll have to conduct much more testing for our full review, but once you're past modem configuration the Orbi seems to be smooth sailing.

Just about everything is handled through the mobile app — we found it easy to configure the bundled satellite, change the Wi-Fi login, and locate critical info. A device list shows everything currently active as well as connection strength, and options to selectively "pause" each item. This feature may be handy for maximizing bandwidth but mostly seems to be aimed at parents trying to kick their kids offline for a few hours.

Netgear Orbi app



On a spec level, the Cable Orbi is one of the better options. The modem component delivers 32x8 DOCSIS 3.0 with up to 1.4 gigabits of bandwidth, more than enough for current home connections. Local Wi-Fi bandwidth can hit 2.2 gigabits per second, split between two 866-megabit channels and one 400-megabit path. One of these is a dedicated 5-gigahertz backhaul for the satellite access point, ensuring that speeds don't drop off dramatically away from the main router.

Our early experiences hint at snappy internet access across a two-floor house. On an iPhone 6s Plus, apps that previously had trouble loading suddenly did much better, as did security camera feeds.

Netgear Cable Orbi speeds



The main router includes four gigabit Ethernet ports, unlike a product such as the Google Wi-Fi, which has just two. The Cable Orbi satellite has two Ethernet jacks of its own.

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