Broadband Reviews

Netgear Orbi 4G LTE WiFi Router (LBR20) Review: the ultimate homeworker router?

Netgear Orbi 4G LTE WiFi Router (LBR20)
Call for backup: the LBR20 has built-in 4G
  • Performance
  • Ease of use
  • Value for money

Summary

A home router with 4G backup, which is ideal for surviving broadband blackouts

Overall
3.7

Pros

  • Great performance
  • Almost seamless fallback onto 4G if main broadband connection dips
  • Attractive router design

Cons

  • Setup should be much easier
  • Expensive 

Unless you’re a sculptor or a mime artist, working from home is considerably harder without an internet connection. The Netgear Orbi 4G LTE WiFi Router (LBR20) aims to ensure your connection never fully drops by providing a 4G backup. Does it work and is it worth the considerable price? Read on to find out.

Getting the setup right

The first thing to note here is that the LBR20 considers itself to be first and foremost a 4G router. Pop a NanoSIM card into the slot into the router and go through the setup procedure, and you’ll likely be up and running within minutes – but only on the 4G mobile data connection. Want the 4G to act as a fallback for your main broadband connection? Then you have to jump through some setup hoops.

Netgear could do a much better job here, because those hoops are far from obvious.

The key setting you’ll need to adjust is buried in advanced settings, which you access via a computer browser, not the Orbi app for smartphones. Once you’re in those settings, make sure you untick the box that turns the WAN/LAN1 port into WAN-only mode. Only then will your Orbi router recognise a connection from your existing broadband router (in modem-only mode). You also have to switch off the option to always use the 3G/4G connection; you’ll find more details on how to do this buried down in page 21 of the router’s user manual.

It’s a bumpy start for what I would consider the use case that most people would want, and I had to enlist the help of Netgear’s support team before I figured it out. It’s a shame, because everything else about the Orbi setup was its usual pain-free self – bar the nagging to sign up for various paid-for security add-ons in the Orbi app.

Performance

Once everything was set up as it should be, performance was very impressive. The router doesn’t support Wi-Fi 6, nor 5G for that matter, but it offers more than enough coverage and speed for most medium-sized homes.

Even through two external walls, I recorded almost full speed downloads (220Mbits/sec) and uploads (20Mbits/sec) from my main broadband connection. I only lost about 10% of that speed when moving to rooms upstairs. Although you can add extra satellite routers to this system, there’s a good chance you won’t need them if the router is placed centrally in the home. And the attractive Orbi units are much less of an eyesore than most routers, meaning you won’t feel a strong desire to tuck them away.

Once everything was set up correctly, the 4G failover mode worked well too. I simulated a loss of main broadband connection by disconnecting my modem from the wall. A purple light glowed from the top of the Orbi router to signal that it had lost connection, but within 15 seconds it had engaged the 4G connection and everything was back up and running again. All without any user intervention.

The LBR20 has two connectors for LTE antennas (not supplied) on the back of the router if your 4G signal is weak. However, I saw download speeds of up to 20Mbits/sec on a Vodafone 4G SIM without any antennas attached, which is as fast as I’ve seen them in my home. Certainly, such speeds would allow most people to press on with day-to-day work if their main broadband connection was knocked out for a day or two. Before you commit to this device, I recommend you check 4G coverage and speeds in your own home.

One further thing to note about the LBR20: it only has one spare Ethernet socket if you connect it to your main broadband modem. If you like wiring multiple devices to your router, you’ll need to invest in a switch.

Netgear Orbi 4G LTE WiFi Router (LBR20) verdict

Once you’ve overcome the setup hurdles, the Netgear Orbi 4G LTE WiFi Router (LBR20) is a smooth operator and a strong option for those who want to make sure they’re never left without an internet connection.

However, this convenience comes at a price. At the time of writing (early May) it was on sale for £300, down from its normal price of £370. That’s still a fair whack to pay for a single router unit, when there are very decent mesh systems you can buy for that price.

If you simply can’t be without an internet connection, the LBR20 is well worth considering, but that price is just too punchy to earn our outright recommendation.

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About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at barry@bigtechquestion.com.

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