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Lifewire / Andy Zahn
Rugged and water resistant
Reasonably easy to set up
Large and bulky
Controls and confusingly labeled
Heatsink location makes wall mounting less ideal
The Netgear Orbi RBS50Y is one of the most robust Wi-Fi extenders on the market. Though pricey, it’s an ideal way to expand your Wi-Fi network to your backyard.
Wi-Fi has traditionally been an indoor convenience, with home networks only grazing the near edge of our yards and patios. The fact is that rain and other elements of the great outdoors don’t play well with sensitive electronics. The Netgear Orbi RBS50Y is a high powered network extender that aims to change that with its robust, water-resistant design.
The RBS50Y is a chunky piece of plastic. It’s significantly bulkier than you’d expect a Wi-Fi extender to be, but for a device that’s meant to stand up to the elements, it’s heavy plastic exterior is certainly reassuring. The RBS50Y features an IP66 rating ensures that it’s capable of withstanding rain, snow, or sprinklers.
The RBS50Y features an IP66 rating ensures that it’s capable of withstanding rain, snow, or sprinklers.
The exterior is plain and mostly utilitarian. It has no ethernet or USB ports that might compromise its waterproof exterior, and controls are limited to power, sync, reset, and indicator light buttons. A power cable, stand, and mounting equipment are included.
If you already own a Netgear Orbi router, setting up the Orbi RBS50Y is a breeze. However, if you are adding it on to a non-Orbi system then the setup process is a bit more complex. The initial difficulties I had were that I found the labeling on the control panel to be mildly confusing, and the color-coded lights that the system uses to display its status are difficult for me to determine due to my colorblindness.
You can wall-mount the RBS50Y, but there's an issue with the location of the heat sink. A warning label indicates that this can become warm, and this is definitely the case. This heatsink is where the Orbi RBS50Y attaches to the mounting bracket and comes into contact with the wall. It never became overly hot during my time testing it, but this seems like a questionable design decision.
The Orbi RBS50Y, by default, is set to Orbi mode so that it automatically connects to Netgear’s Orbi router. To change it to extender mode to work with other systems, you must power it on while holding the sync button and continue holding the sync button until the indicator light begins pulsing white and blue. You then release the button and wait for the light to turn solid blue.
Next you need to connect to the Orbi RBS50Y network from your PC and create an admin account in a browser window that pops up automatically. You can then choose to set up your network manually or use the automated tool. The automated process is pretty straightforward, and I had the system up and running within an hour. My issue with colorblindness was a particular problem at the end of the setup process, as a good connection is signaled by a blue light, but a magenta light signals connection failure, and I have severe difficulty telling these two colors apart.
It’s worth noting that once the initial setup is complete you can move the Orbi RBS50Y to whichever location you desire, plug it in, and power it on. Just make sure it’s well within the range of your existing Wi-Fi network.
Previously, my home network offered fair reception within about twenty feet of my house. However, once I added the Orbi RBS50Y that area ballooned to cover a decent chunk of the small farm where I live. The Orbi RBS50Y offers a coverage area of up to 2500 square feet, which seems to be a fairly accurate estimate. I found myself crossing my yard, driveway, the fenceline into the goat pasture, through a patch of woods all the way to the edge of the marsh where the signal started to cut out. Roughly estimated, that’s about 140 feet through trees and parked vehicles.
I found myself crossing my yard, driveway, the fenceline into the goat pasture, through a patch of woods all the way to the edge of the marsh where the signal started to cut out.
Network speed does drop off gradually as you go farther from the router. Within 30 feet I was able to take advantage of my full network speed, within a hundred feet that declined by about 20%, and at the limit of its range I was able to get about 60% of my total network speed. It blends seamlessly with my existing Wi-Fi network and works great even with a dozen different devices connected to the network, thanks to the integrated MU-MIMO technology.
The Orbi RBS50Y really doesn’t have much software to speak of. There’s the automated setup process and the usual basic backend router interface, but that’s about it. A good Wi-Fi extender is a device that you shouldn’t need to worry about once you’ve got it up and running.
With an MSRP of $350 the Orbi RBS50Y is definitely pricey, but you really get what you pay for with this range extender. Considering its range and water resistance, it actually offers decent value for money despite its high price.
Considering its range and water resistance, it actually offers decent value for money despite its high price.
If you don't need a waterproof range extender, the TP-Link TL-WR902AC is available for less than fifty bucks and is small enough to fit in your pocket. It’s cheap enough that you could install one outside in a protected area and just replace it if ever failed due to exposure to the elements. Still, the Netgear Orbi RBS50Y offers about twice the range of the TP-Link TL-WR902AC and is worth the expense if you can afford it.
The Netgear Orbi RBS50Y offers impressive range, speed, and durability, albeit for a high asking price.
If you want a robust outdoor addition to your Wi-Fi network, the Netgear Orbi RBS50Y is a powerful and water-resistant option. Though it comes at a steep cost, this Wi-Fi extender is worth every penny.