Netgear Orbi RBK860 Series: That 10GbE WAN Tease

Netgear Orbi RBK860 Series: That 10GbE WAN Tease

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Netgear today unveiled its latest member in the popular Orbi family of purpose-built mesh Wi-Fi systems, the Orbi 860 Series.

The new hardware ups the WAN connection to 10Gbps from 2.5Gbps of the previous Orbi 850 series, the company’s first Wi-Fi 6 Orbi set debuted in late 2019. And this new 10GbE port is where all the buzz is all about.

Indeed, the networking vendor claims this port qualifies the newcomer as the ultimate router because it “future-proofs home networks for Internet speed upgrades up to 10Gbps”.

Besides this “ultimate-qualifying” port, the Orbi RBK860 series is essentially the same as the previous model in Wi-Fi specs, firmware, and mobile apps.

Still, it comes with an “upgraded” cost, carrying the suggested retail price of $1,099.99 for a 3-pack (model Orbi RBK863S) — or you can get the satellite (model RBS860) for $429.99 and the router (model RBR860S) for $429.99.

Naturally, the question is whether this new Wi-Fi 6 mesh option is worth the extra cost. Let’s find out.

The Netgear Orbi RBK860 series is available as a 3-pack (RBK860S) for $1099.99, and you can also buy the satellite unit, model RBS860 ($429.99), to add more coverage.

Netgear Orbi RBK860 series: That hyped-up 10Gbps WAN port

A fast WAN port only helps. I explained that in this post on Gigabit broadband. If you want to see true 1Gbps, your hardware must support a faster standard, and 2.5Gbps is the next step.

For this reason, many Wi-Fi routers and mesh systems come with a Multi-Gig WAN port.

So using a 10Gbps WAN port — that’s 4x the speed of a 2.5Gbps port — will make things that much better, right? Well, that depends.

Things will only be better — the best, in fact — if the hardware also has a 10GbE LAN port. In this case, you get one real 10Gbps wired connection and the option of adding a switch to have a true Multi-Gig network.

Unfortatney, that’s not the case with the Orbi RBK860 series. Specifically, its router unit, the RBR860, has a single 10Gbps WAN port that can’t be programmed to work as a LAN port. And satellite unit, the RBS860, has no Multi-Gig port at all.

Consequently, there’s no chance you can get a network with Multi-Gig wired backhauling out of this set. And most importantly, there’s no way you can experience faster-than-Gigabit out of this hardware.

But first, let’s check out its hardware specs.

Netgear Orbi RBK863 SeriesNetgear Orbi RBK863B Series
The Orbi RBK860 series is available in white and black.

Hardware specifications: Orbi RBK860 vs Orbi RBK850

Netgear often uses the phrase “best Wi-Fi performance” to describe its Orbi variants.

In reality, the Orbi family generally has modest Wi-Fi specs on the 5GHz — the most important band due to clients’ popularity — due to the lack of support for the 160MHz channel width and, most importantly, the fact that half of the spectrum is permanently unavailable to clients.

Hardware Netgear Orbi RBK860 Series Netgear Orbi RBK850 Series
Model RBKE863: 3-pack (white)
RBK863B: 3-pack (black)
Router: RBR860
Satellite: RBS860
RBK853: 3-pack
RBK852: 2-pack
Router: RBR850
Satellite: RBS850
Dimensions
(each unit)
10 x 7.5 x 2.8 in
(24.5 x 19.05 x 7.11 cm)
10 x 7.5 x 2.8 in
(24.5 x 19.05 x 7.11 cm)
Weight 
(each unit)
2.86 lbs (1.3kg) 2.86 lbs (1.3kg)
Wi-Fi Specs Tri-band AX6000 Tri-band AX6000
1st Band
(Channel Width)
5GHz-1 4×4 AX: Up to 2.4Gbps
(20/40/80MHz)
5GHz-1 4×4 AX: Up to 2.4Gbps
(20/40/80MHz)
2nd Band
(Channel Width)
5GHz-2 4×4 AX: Up to 2.4Gbps
(20/40/80MHz)
5GHz-2 4×4 AX: Up to 2.4Gbps
(20/40/80MHz)
3rd Band
(Channel Width)
2.4GHz 4×4 AX: Up to 1200Mbps
(20/40MHz)
2.4GHz 4×4 AX: Up to 1200Mbps
(20/40MHz)
Processing Power
(router unit)
Quad-core 2.2GHz CPU,
512MB Flash, 1GB RAM
Quad-core 2.2GHz CPU,
512MB Flash, 1GB RAM
MU-MIMO Support Yes Yes
MIMO Yes Yes
AP (bridge mode) Support Yes Yes
Dedicated Wireless Backhaul 5GHz-2
(permanent)
5GHz-2
(permanent)
Wired Backhaul Gigabit
(5GHz backhaul band unavailable to clients)
Gigabit
(5GHz backhaul band unavailable to clients)
Ports (router) 1x 10Gbps WAN,
4x Gigabit LAN
1x 2.5Gbps WAN,
4x Gigabit LAN
Ports (satellite) 4x Gigabit LAN 4x Gigabit LAN
Release Date October 11, 2022 December 12, 2019
US Price (at launch) $1,099.99 (3-pack)
$599 (add-on Satellite)
$699 (2-pack)
Netgear Orbi RBK860 vs Orbi RBK850: Hardware specifications

Netgear Orbi’s model names

Generally, though not always, a Netgear Orbi set’s model number starts with RBK — RBK50, RBK13, RBK752, RBK852, and so on. Those supporting Wi-Fi 6E have an additional E, like the case of the RBKE960.

Dissecting the Orbi’s model name

There are three telling things in an Orbi model name: The first letter, the third (and 4th) letter, and the last digit. The 2nd letter is always the same — B is for Orbi.

  • The First letter (often R, C, or N, but there might be more) means the hardware’s character.
    • R: It’s a regular (standard) setup, be it a single router or a mesh system. So, for example, RBK852 means this one is a standard mesh system.
    • C: There’s a cable modem involved. For example, CBK752 is a mesh system in which the router unit has a built-in cable modem.
    • N: This is when the router unit is cellular-capable. N here is short for NR, or “new radio,” which is a fancy name for cellular Internet.
  • The 3rd letter (often K, R, or S) means the hardware unit’s exclusive role.
    • K = Kit. This means you’re looking at a multi-unit package that includes one router and at least one satellite. So RBK752 refers to a kit of more than one hardware unit. How many? See the last digit below.
    • R = Router unit. For example, RBR750 is the router unit of the RBK752.
    • S = Satellite unit. For example, RBS750 is the satellite unit of the RBK752.
    • The 4th letter (if any): That’d be the letter E which stands for Wi-Fi 6E, like the case of the recently announced RBKE960 series.
  • The Last digit (often 0, 2, 3, etc.) shows the package’s total hardware units.
    • 0 = Single hardware unit (either a router or a satellite.) Generally, it signifies a series of hardware releases.
    • 2 = A 2-pack (router + one satellite). For example, RBK752 is a 2-pack cable-ready mesh that includes a CBR750 gateway and an RBS750 satellite.
    • 3 = A 3-pack (router + two satellites). The RBK853 is a 3-pack mesh system that includes one RBR850 router and two RBS850 satellite units.
  • Extra: The middle digits (often 5, 75, 85, 96, etc) are Netgear’s in-house designations to show the hardware’s Wi-Fi specs. They are a bit arbitrary. Specifically:
    • 5: This is for Wi-Fi 5. For example, the original RBK50 is a Wi-Fi 5 Orbi.
    • 75: This is for a tri-band Wi-Fi 6 with two 2×2 bands and one 4×4 band. Example: the RBK752.
    • 85: Tri-band Wi-Fi 6 hardware with all 4×4 bands. Example: the RBK852.
    • 96: Quad-band Wi-Fi 6E with all 4×4 bands. Example: the RBKE960 series.

If you’re still confused, you’re not alone, but generally, you get the idea. For example, the RBRE960 is the standard high-end Wi-Fi 6E router unit of the Orbi RBKE960 series.

Orbi RBK860 vs Orbi RBK850: Expect the same Wi-Fi throughputs

As you might have noted in the table above, other than the 10Gbps WAN port (as opposed to the 2.5Gbps port), the Orbi RBK860 series is virtually the same as the Orbi RBK850 in hardware specs.

Netgear does claim that the new mesh has a “20% Wi-Fi boost” via “unique Wi-Fi optimization and a new, improved antenna array” over the previous model. But the range is tough to quantify, and this improvement remains to be seen.

One thing is clear, there’s no way the Orbi RBK860 series will be (noticeably) faster than the Orbi RBK850. Most importantly, its 10Gbps WAN port will play no practical role, if at all.

To understand the reason, first, keep the following facts in mind:

  • Like all previous Orbi, the RBK860’s second 5GHz band (the 5GHz-2) is its permanent backhaul band — this band never works for clients.
  • Both of its 5GHz bands do not support 160MHz channel width. Consequently, the fronthaul band (5GHz-1) has, at best, 1.2Gbps (1200Mbps) of ceiling Wi-Fi bandwidth to a 2×2 Wi-Fi 6 client — there’s no faster client. Real-world speed will be much lower than 1.2Gbps.
  • A wired client will connect at 1Gbps at best — the hardware has no Multi-Gig LAN port, nor does it feature Link Aggregation.

To understand the Orbi’s permanent backhaul concept, which Netgear often refers to as “patented dedicated backhaul,” you can liken the mesh system’s router unit to a special 4WD pickup truck with a separate engine for the rear wheels dedicated solely to the job of pulling a trailer.

This engine makes sense and is great when the truck has a trailer attached (a mesh system) but becomes dead weight when the truck works just by itself (standalone router) — it’s now a full-time front-wheel-drive vehicle.

It’s probably not a good idea to consider such a truck unless you intend to use it to pull a trailer most, if not all, of the time.

The point is Netgear’s Orbi only makes sense when you need a fully wireless mesh Wi-Fi system, and never when you need a standalone router, where the second 5GHz band is a waste in terms of hardware cost and energy consumption.

Now, let’s talk about the 10Gbps WAN port of the RBR860 router unit. Clearly, the only way to see how this port plays out is when you have super-fast broadband — this port can never work as a LAN port.

So there are two applicable scenarios. In one, you don’t have super-fast Internet and in the other, you do.

If you don’t have super-fast broadband (but only Gigabit or slower)

In this popular case where your Internet speed is at Gigabit (1Gbps) or lower, any router supporting the lowest grade of Multi-Gig (2.5Gbps) on the WAN side will be able to give you all that you’d need in terms of Internet bandwidth.

Data transmission speeds in a nutshell

As you read this page, keep in mind that each character on the screen, including a space between two words, generally requires one byte of data.

(So the phrase “Dong Knows Tech,” no quotes, requires at least 15 bytes, and likely more since the formatting — such as capitalization and font — also needs extra storage space.)

One byte equals eight bits.

1,000,000 bits = 1 Megabits (Mb).

Megabits per second (Mbps) is the common unit for data transmission nowadays. Based on that, the following are common terms:

  • Fast Ethernet: A connection standard that can deliver up to 100Mbps.
  • Gigabit: That’s 1Gbps or 1000Mbps. It’s currently the most popular wired connection standard.
  • Gig+: A connection that’s faster than 1Gbps but slower than 2Gbps. It often applies to 2×2 Wi-Fi 6/E or Internet speeds.
  • Multi-Gigabit: That’s multi-gigabits — a link that’s 2Gbps or faster.
  • Multi-Gig: A new BASE-T wired connection standard that delivers 2.5Gbps, 5Gbps, or 10Gbps, depending on the devices involved, and is also backward compatible with Fast Ethernet and Gigabit.

Multi-Gig explained: It’s more than faster-than-Gigabit speeds

Indeed, a 2.5Gbps port has more than double the bandwidth of a Gigabit and can easily handle a 1Gbps connection in full. As a result, using any higher Multi-Gig grades, namely 5Gbps or 10Gbps in the case of the Orbi 860 series, will offer zero return on investment. It’s like using a sledgehammer to drive a small nail.

Netgear Orbi RBK860 Series 10Gbps Port
The 10Gbps WAN port is where Netgear hypes up its new Orbi RBK860 series. There’s not much return in real-world usage.

In other words, when you have Gigabit or slower broadband, the RBK850 series (with 2.5Gbps WAN) or even the RBK750 series (Gigabit WAN) makes more sense and a much better deal.

If you do have super-fast Multi-Gig broadband

For the sake of argument and to match what the new Orbi offers, let’s say we indeed have a 10Gbps broadband connection that truly delivers. (Most don’t — and I speak from experience.)

In this case, the broadband speed will enter the Orbi RBR860 router unit at 10Gbps, and that’s great.

However, on the way out, you’ll get 1Gbps at best on a wired client. So you’ll need to have ten wired clients downloading at top speed simultaneously to fully appreciate this WAN connection. But the RBR860 has just four LAN ports.

On the Wi-Fi front, its 5GHz-1 band (the only band that’s available to clients) has the top bandwidth of 2400Mbps, so it can handle at best two Wi-Fi clients with Gig+ theoretical speed. Real-world sustained speeds will be around Gigabit or likely lower.

So by itself, the router unit can handle at most six top-performing clients or the maximum output of around 6Gbps. As a result, there’s no way you can know for sure that you actually get 10Gbps WAN speed, or if the port actually functions at 10GbE speed grade.

If you add an RBS860 satellite unit, its speed will be limited by the backhaul, which is either 1Gbps via a wired connection or 2.4Gbps via the 5GHz-2 backhaul band. Consequently, the connected client will be even further removed from the 10Gbps WAN input.

So in the end, the 10Gbps WAN port, by itself, doesn’t have much to offer because there’s no way users can appreciate it. They can’t even know if this port truly functions at 10Gbps.

And here’s the real deal: If you actually have 10GbE broadband, you’d want to experience it — trust me! And for now, a router with two 10Gbps ports or a mesh with Multi-Gig wired backhauling is the only way to go.

In short, if you indeed have Multi-Gig broadband, the Orbi RBK860 series — any current Orbi, for that matter — will be a bad choice. It just doesn’t make sense, especially considering the cost. That’s like investing in a 10-lane entry ramp that connects to a 2-lane freeway.

Netgear Orbi RBK860 Series Mobile App
The Netgear Orbi RBK860 series share the same Orbi mobile app as the other Orbi sets.

The same Orbi experience

Other than the 10Gbps port, you can expect to deliver the same experience as the previous Orbi.

There’s a web interface for advanced settings with limited Wi-Fi customization and a mobile app for remote access, ease of use, and premium add-ons.

As mentioned above, Netgear says the new RBK860 series includes one year of Netgear Armor, an online protection feature that requires the mobile app to work and costs $99.00/year after.

The takeaway

Hardware-wise, the new Orbi RBK860 series is definitely “better” than the RBK850 series — its 10Gbps WAN port doesn’t hurt. However, the real-world experience of the two will likely be identical.

That said, you should only pick the RBK860 over the RBK850 if you believe Netgear’s claimed 20% improved Wi-Fi coverage.

Considering the company adds the 10Gbps WAN “highway-to-nowhere” port and calls the hardware “ultimate”, I’d take what it says about the range with a grain of salt. But even if that turned out to be accurate, I’m not sure if that’s worth the extra cost.

In any case, consider this new mesh — or any Orbi — only when you have Gigabit or slower broadband and live in a large area with no possibility of getting it wired.

For more options on high-speed solutions, check out this frequently updated roundup on Wi-Fi hardware with Multi-Gig support.



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