A couple of weeks ago, Netgear rolled an update to its Orbi pseudo-mesh WiFi system, version 188.8.131.52. Netgear’s own release notes seem to acknowledge that they effectively broke wired backhaul with the update:
When user has two or more Orbi satellites connected to Orbi router using Ethernet backhaul connection, an Orbi satellite might not connect to the Orbi router after the firmware update. A workaround solution is to reboot the Orbi router and then wait for 2–5 minutes.
The problem? The “workaround” doesn’t actually work.
Once my Orbi system self-updated shortly after the update was rolled, we began experiencing a wide range of connectivity issues; several wireless devices simply stopped providing connectivity despite being connected to the WiFi network. Streaming stopped, iPads stared back at us blankly, web browser hung and did nothing. Meanwhile, specific devices did work… This iPhone, that Nintendo Switch — just not many of them.
Trying to figure out what was going on was a time consuming exercise in frustration. First, Netgear doesn’t actually notify you about automatic updates, so I had no idea that a firmware update was applied. And given that Netgear doesn’t provide a way to disable automatic firmware updates, it’s not like I would have had a choice even if I had been notified. All I knew is that the system stopped working, and rebooting didn’t really solve anything.
Nearly four hours and a lot of Googling, rebooting and screwing around later, I learned that the update was pushed out, and I learned about its “known issue,” quoted above. But as I mentioned, the problem is that the workaround simply does not work. After restarting the satellites, and waiting far longer than “2-5 minutes,” resulted in a home network that barely functioned.
To say that this was frustrating would be a serious understatement. With all my misgivings about the Orbi from the start (read my thoughts here and here), it was time to take advantage of Costco’s liberal return policy. I yanked out all the Orbi units, pulling my pair of Apple AirPort Extreme units out of retirement to temporarily take their place and restore connectivity, and the Orbi units went right back to Costco, nine months after initial purchase. Enough was enough.
In my view, Netgear needs a serious education in software testing — if not customer service. If you’re going to mandate automated firmware updates, providing no way to opt-out, then you better damned well be certain you’re not going to break your customers’ systems. To roll this update, with known issues that will affect a segment of your customer base, is not just irresponsible, it’s just plain stupid. And to do so with a workaround that’s buried in a release note on a page of your web site, and just let people go search for it, is equally irresponsible and stupid — especially given that the workaround doesn’t work around anything.
Granted, temporarily interrupted Internet access at home is perhaps a stereotypical “first world problem.” But when your job requires you to have Internet access to function, as mine does, breaking my Internet access is nothing short of taking away my livelihood. And after this fiasco, not only can Netgear take my former Orbi system back, but they can know this: The last Netgear product I will ever purchase has just left the building.