The Netgear Orbi is badass.
I’ve never experienced such great range and throughput from a WiFi router. Dead spots are gone in my home.
We all have a healthy radioactive glow.
Within days, we started getting major stability problems. Our Google Homes and Chromecasts were dropping connection and requiring manual reboots nearly every hour.
What good is a fast network that won’t stay connected?
The Orbi was expensive and I expected better than this. It should be a rock-solid, set-and-forget system for that price.
The firmware updates weren’t helping, but I wasn’t ready to give up on it yet.
Fun with firmware
The web was full of glowing reviews of this system. Now I figure they were all using older firmware versions at the time they posted their reviews. The problems seem to have started for people in the summer of 2017.
Many nights after work were wasted tweaking the settings, moving the Orbi router and satellites to different places in the home, scouring reddit and the Netgear forums, trying various firmware versions… and not really getting anywhere. So many people were having the same problems as me that I figured my device was not defective, and that something else was to blame.
Netgear has been working on solving these problems for the better part of a year but has yet to put out a new stable firmware. We’re having to take things into our own hands here.
The only router firmware version that gave reasonable stability (but still a little flakey) was 220.127.116.11. But that one was feature-poor, missing security patches, and also lacked ethernet backhaul. I wanted to use 18.104.22.168!
Was it the Google mDNS Flooding Bug?
There was a known-problem with Google devices waking from sleep and flooding the network, and I’m sure that was just making things worse, but my problems persisted after Google patched those bugs.
Finally, a breakthrough
I have an above-average sized home, but the Orbi RBK50 system is rated for a 5000-square foot home. It’s a router + satellite access point bundle. I think it was just overkill here.
My house isn’t big enough for Orbi!
My previous AC router could not reach one end of my home and there were dead spots in two rooms. But the Orbi just blasts through it all like it was nothing. And that was actually a bad thing when there’s two powerful access points competing for the airwaves.
However, the Orbi router by itself wasn’t quite enough for full speeds so I still needed the satellite, too.
The symptoms I had seemed like they could be caused by the battle for air supremacy between the router and satellite:
- Devices preferring 2.4ghz when a strong 5ghz connection was fairly close
- Devices connecting to the furthest access point
- Devices endlessly reconnecting (about every minute, over 12+ hours according to the DHCP logs on the router.)
Solution 0: Force the 2.4Ghz channel to 6 or 1
In all my years of WiFi usage, I’ve only ever had stable performance on channel 6 or 1, and nothing else. Orbi’s “auto” setting would choose other channels and my 2.4Ghz devices hate that.
Note that if you change this in the Web UI, it will overwrite any of your changed settings in the next step for SSIDs. So do this one first!
Solution 1: Set different SSIDs for 2.4 and 5ghz
The Orbi uses the same SSID for its 2.4 and 5ghz bands. My devices were switching between 2.4 and 5ghz all the time, when it seemed entirely inappropriate for them to be doing so.
Separating the SSIDs was critical.
I have no idea why they don’t allow you to change this through the Web UI. You CAN do this however, by visiting the debug.htm page on the router and enabling telnet, then running some commands. Note that you must do this on both the router AND the satellite. There is a post with instructions on the Netgear forum.
Solution 2: Decrease the transmit power
My stationary devices were also randomly connecting to the access point that was furthest away from them. Argh!
I set the 5ghz to 75% power and the 2.4ghz to 50%. My devices no longer connect to the wrong access points. This is probably networking 101 stuff but I didn’t try this until much later than I’d care to admit.
Solution 3: Set a static IP for the satellite
I don’t know if this actually matters, but it seemed weird to me to have a critical part of my network infrastructure with a dynamic IP. I gave static IPs to as many things as possible, in addition to the satellite.
I’m guessing that devices endlessly reconnecting and getting new dynamic IPs could lead to IP conflicts. Correct me if I’m wrong.
Orbi’s DHCP log was a mess and it sure seemed to like to give out 192.168.1.100 to different devices.
Update: I set up a Pi-Hole server on a Raspberry Pi which handles network-wide ad blocking as well as DHCP duties. Orbi’s DHCP server left much to be desired and the UI is painful to use when assigning static IPs. And it has lost all of my settings more than once so far, which is frustrating to say the least. Pi-Hole, on the other hand, has been amazing!
My Orbi works again!
Finally, after months of frustration, my Orbi system is stable. And I can even use the ethernet backhaul again. It’s become the set-and-forget system that I wanted it to be from the start.
Good luck with your Orbis, don’t lose hope.
So, um, I bought the wrong system…
During my struggles, I learned that Orbi probably was not the right solution for me after all.
Orbi’s biggest advantage is its superb dedicated wireless backhaul, which is a feature I don’t need since I am able to run an ethernet cable to the satellite. I didn’t need a “mesh network,” I needed multiple access points for the same WLAN. And more control over the configuration and features of the router would have been very welcome.
I should have purchased a set of Ubiquiti Unifi APs instead. Now I know for next time.