5G home internet needs better modems, and Netgear is here to provide—although its new Orbi 5G may be too expensive to be a real contender.
T-Mobile’s 5G internet service is now available to more than 30 million US households, but it has a weak spot: unreliable, low-quality modems. The demand for 5G home internet modems will just get greater next year, when Verizon and AT&T turn on their C-band networks in 46 metro areas and, potentially, start selling home internet subscriptions on them.
“A lot of users are not using their [carrier-provided] gateway,” says Netgear’s Max Wu. In a study Netgear did, it found that 40% of the wireless home internet subscribers it interviewed had a router connected behind their gateway.
Enter the Netgear Orbi 5G (NBK752). The Orbi 5G concept is pretty simple: take an Orbi, the successful mesh Wi-Fi system, and put a sub-6GHz 5G modem in it. The device uses Wi-Fi 6 within your home and can work with any existing Orbi mesh units.
In general, the Orbi has similar software to the 4G and Wi-Fi-only versions of Netgear’s products, which is encouraging. The router won’t have parental control software available at launch, but it’ll roll out by the end of the year, Wu said.
According to T-Mobile, the Orbi 5G has a Quectel IOT 5G module based on Qualcomm’s X55 modem, which supports all of the 5G bands US carriers intend to use over the next few years. As an X55 product, it doesn’t support some new extended-range features that T-Mobile and Verizon intend to implement, combining low-band FDD with mid-band TDD airwaves to increase range. But it does support the basic mid-band combinations that phones and home modems have accessed so far, as well as C-Band. It does not support Verizon’s existing millimeter-wave home system.
Too Costly to Succeed?
The one big problem with Netgear’s solution: it’s way too expensive. An Orbi 5G plus one satellite costs $1,099.99. An additional satellite costs $299.99. It’s even too expensive when subsidized by a carrier. Bell Canada sells the router alone for C$908, or $733.
Yes, that’s still less than the price of a flagship smartphone. But it’s way out of whack for a home modem or router. The LTE version of the Orbi (LBR20) costs $399.
As a closer comparison, a standard Wi-Fi 6 Orbi router with one satellite costs $449.99. T-Mobile’s current Nokia routers aren’t sold separately, but on eBay, they’re going for around $250. Put them together and that’s $700—$400 less than the package Netgear is selling in the US.
Netgear’s Wu says “the chips for 5G are just crazily expensive.”
The router also currently doesn’t pair with any unlimited home internet service plans, so you would have to use a data-capped hotspot plan if you buy the Orbi right now. T-Mobile doesn’t permit its home internet SIMs to be moved into customer-purchased devices.
Netgear has been talking to T-Mobile, and “they are open, they’re listening, but they aren’t moving fast enough,” Wu says.
The Netgear Orbi 5G goes on sale today and ships Nov. 16. Hopefully it will get picked up by a carrier.