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Netgear Orbi Pro, First Take: Business-friendly mesh networking


Mesh networking has been a big trend in recent months, with all the major networking players getting in on the act, as well as big names such as Google and Asus. Netgear’s eye-catching Orbi was one of the first mesh systems to arrive last year but, like most of its rivals, the Orbi was primarily designed for home users who simply wanted to get a better wi-fi signal for their home network.

When Netgear approached business customers, it found there was some resistance to the original Orbi, so it has now extended the range with the business-focused Orbi Pro. According to Netgear, the Orbi Pro is specifically designed for small businesses who may not have dedicated teams of IT staff, but who nonetheless need to set up a versatile network infrastructure that can be used internally by employees, while also providing wi-fi and internet access for BYOD devices, visitors to their offices, or customers in locations such as showrooms, hotels or restaurants.

Making a mesh

The Orbi Pro takes the same approach as most mesh systems, using two routers that can be placed in separate rooms or locations in order to provide wider and more reliable wi-fi coverage than a single conventional router. The two devices are virtually identical, but one is designated as the ‘Primary’ router for your internet connection, while the second is referred to as a ‘Satellite’ and can be placed in any convenient location.

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The Orbi Pro comes in Primary (left) and Satellite (right) versions. The former uses one of its RJ-45 ports to connect to a modem for internet connectivity.


Images: Netgear

Both routers support tri-band 802.11ac on 2.4GHz and two 5GHz channels (one of the latter being dedicated to between-device ‘backhaul’ communication) via six internal antennas, delivering a maximum combined wi-fi speed of 3Gbps.

The standard two-piece kit costs £479 (inc. VAT; £399.17 ex. VAT, or $499) and should cover an area of up to 5000 square feet (464.5 square metres). It’s also possible to extend that coverage with additional satellite routers costing £280 (inc. VAT; £233.33 ex. VAT, or $270) each. As well as tri-band wi-fi, each router also provides Gigabit Ethernet ports — three on the primary device and four on the satellite — for wired connections; Netgear also includes a wall-mounting kit to keep the routers safely out of reach in public locations.

The Orbi Pro does not include a modem, so you’ll need to connect the primary router to an existing modem or router that provides your internet access.

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Orbi Pro devices can stand alone, or be placed out of harm’s way via a wall-mounting kit.


Images: Netgear

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That pricing means that the Orbi Pro is more expensive than a conventional router, and most rival mesh routers too. But as well as wider and more reliable wi-fi coverage, the Orbi Pro includes a number of features specifically aimed at business users. The setup process, in particular, is designed to help smaller businesses that may lack specialist IT staff to maintain their network.

As soon as the two Orbi Pro routers are switched on, they automatically create three separate wi-fi networks, each with its own SSID and password. The first is the ‘Admin network’ that provides full access to the company’s network infrastructure, including printers, and corporate data stored on private servers. The second ‘Employee’ network is designed for BYOD use, providing internet access for your staff and their mobile devices, but preventing full network access that might compromise sensitive data.

There’s also a third ‘Guest’ network that provides internet access for customers or people visiting your offices, and can be configured with options such as a home page that identifies your organization, and the ability to impose time limits on network use. The setup process is admirably straightforward, with a simple mobile app for the initial installation, and a browser-based interface for configuring additional settings.

Conclusions

The Orbi Pro may be more expensive than conventional wi-fi routers, but it offers small businesses a flexible plug-and-play solution for quickly setting up networks suitable for internal staff, customers and members of the public. It may also be useful for larger organisations that prefer to create separate networks for specific locations such as meeting rooms, or hotels and restaurants.

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