Netgear Orbi NBK752 review: A powerful Wi
Apr 10, 2023
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It's hugely expensive but the Orbi does it all, combining fast Wi-Fi with 5G mobile internet support
The original Netgear Orbi RBK752 (£300) is one of our favourite Wi-Fi 6 solutions, offering fast, far-reaching Wi-Fi at a reasonable price. Like most meshes, however, it becomes a lot less useful if your internet connection goes down.
That's where the NBK752 comes in. It takes the RBK752 formula and adds a 5G SIM slot, allowing you to use any mobile data service as a backup to your regular fixed-line broadband connection – or a full-time alternative. It sounds like just the thing for home workers or small businesses, but it comes at a steep price that only makes sense if you absolutely need an always-on internet connection.
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The NBK752 is a two-node, tri-band Wi-Fi 6 mesh system, officially rated to serve up to 40 devices over an area of 4,000 square feet. The main 5GHz radio claims a maximum connection speed of 1.2Gbits/sec, while a separate 5GHz backhaul band promises double the bandwidth, ensuring the connection doesn't get bogged down when large amounts of data are being passed around the network. Six internal aerials support 2x2 MU-MIMO on each radio band, helping to maximise throughput.
There are also three Ethernet ports on the router station for wired clients and two on the satellite. There's no support for the latest 2.5GbE or Wi-Fi 6E standards; devices that support these newer technologies can connect but they may not achieve the fastest speeds they’re capable of.
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At £1,099 the Orbi NBK752 is very expensive. It's understandable that its 5G capabilities drive up the cost, but it's still hard to stomach paying more than a grand for a two-station mesh, especially when the original Orbi RBK752 can currently be had for a mere £300.
Still, if you need a 5G mesh then you don't have a lot of options – this is the only one we’ve seen. You could save some money by going for the Netgear M5 mobile hotspot (a snip at £780) and combining it with a regular mesh, but then you lose the integrated management of the Orbi system.
For those on tighter budgets, you may have to skip 5G for now – depending on signal coverage, it might not be available in your locale anyway. The TP-Link Archer MR600 router supports both Ethernet and 4G+ connections for a much cheaper £120 and can be partnered with an affordable Wi-Fi 6 mesh such as the £230 Netgear Orbi RBK352. Alternatively, the TP-Link M7650 acts as a simple standalone 4G+ hotspot for £139.
The NBK752 looks a lot like the RBK752. Indeed, the satellite station is the same RBS750 unit as supplied with the non-5G mesh. However, the router station is bigger and taller, standing 246mm tall next to the smaller 231mm satellite.
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At the rear of the router unit, a trio of Ethernet ports can be used for either clients or wired internet and you can even aggregate two ports for a 2Gbits/sec WAN connection, if your broadband service is that fast. Next to these there's a push-in nano-SIM slot and, at either end of the rear panel, you’ll see screw-in connectors for external 5G antennas. These will take any standard SMA aerials, but you’ll have to source them yourself as none is provided in the box. For the price that feels like a pretty mean omission.
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The network can be managed using either the Orbi smartphone app or the familiar Orbi web interface. There's plenty of technical detail and loads of settings on offer, including an incoming VPN service for securely connecting to the LAN over the internet. On the mobile app you can sign up for Netgear's parental control platform and the Armor security service, which detects vulnerabilities on your network and blocks malware and suspicious connections. Those services cost extra (£50 and £85 a year respectively), but if you’re in the market for an eleven-hundred-pound mesh then that probably won't faze you.
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Hunt around the interface and you’ll also spot an unobtrusive little menu for mobile broadband settings. Here you can turn the 5G connection on or off, or set it as a failover for when the Ethernet connection is lost. I found this worked very smoothly: when I yanked the Ethernet cable out, the Orbi silently switched over to the mobile network in under 15 seconds, fast enough that in a real outage you probably wouldn't even notice the changeover. And when I plugged the cable back in, the Orbi took just eight seconds to reconnect to my main broadband line.
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The NBK752's wireless hardware isn't quite of the highest specification. Other meshes such as the Linksys Atlas Pro 6 (from £168) or TP-Link Deco X90 (£444) have 4.8Gbits/sec radios, with support for the maximum 160MHz channel width, while the Orbi is limited to 80MHz.
To find out the difference this makes, I tested the Orbi NBK752 in my usual way. I started by situating the primary unit in my study at home, with the second one at the far side of the adjoining bedroom. Then, I carried my test laptop (equipped with an Intel AX210 Wi-Fi card) to various locations around the house, and measured read and write speeds when copying files to and from a NAS appliance connected to the main unit by Ethernet. Here are the results I got, along with the speeds from some other meshes for comparison:
As you’d hope, the NBK752 fared better than a typical low-cost mesh like the Huawei Mesh 3, with faster speeds in almost every location. There were some ups and downs compared to the Orbi RBK752, but that's probably down to newer firmware and an updated laptop since we originally tested that system at the start of 2021.
Overall, the NBK752 hits the same spot as its sibling. It can't compete with the fastest meshes on the market but there's more than enough bandwidth here for most homes or offices – and I found two stations were enough to cover five different rooms across two storeys. Power consumption is about average for a mesh, with the main unit drawing between 13W and 15W depending on load, and the satellite consuming 11W.
I was very pleased with the NBK752's mobile internet performance, too. When equipped with a 5G-enabled O2 SIM it delivered an excellent 108Mbits/sec downstream to my inner-London home, with an upload rate of 15.8Mbits/sec. That's faster than many residential broadband services.
If you’re not within a 5G coverage area then the Orbi will fall back to 4G instead. With a Vodafone 4G connection I measured download speeds of 35.5Mbits/sec, and an upload rate of 5.1Mbits/sec – rather better than the 25Mbits/sec I saw from the TP-Link Archer MR600 router with the same SIM.
Screwing in a pair of 6in external antennas at the rear didn't make any difference to 4G or 5G speeds, but that's probably because the Orbi was already showing a five-bar signal without them: they’d likely help in areas of more marginal coverage.
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The sky-high price makes it impossible to give the NK752 a general recommendation. It could be a brilliant safety net for anyone working from home but your main internet connection would need to be very flaky indeed to justify the investment. Otherwise, there are far cheaper ways to deal with the occasional outage, including the option of using your smartphone as a mobile hotspot.
If an employer is willing to pay for it, however, there's much to like about the NBK752. It's brilliant for small offices that can't afford to drop offline, and also a great solution for locations with no fixed broadband line, such as construction sites, outdoor events or rural retreats. It would certainly be nice if the price were lower, and the benefits of 5G are highly geographically dependent, but if you’re in need of a stable, manageable 5G mesh then this one won't disappoint.
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