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Pop-up Review: Portal Router

Ignition Design Labs Portal WiFI
Two Portals can be used in a mesh configuartion. iOS and Android apps.

In the world of consumer routers the Ignition Design Labs Portal is somewhat unusual. Although it uses the typical 2.4 and 5 Ghz Wi-Fi bands it differs in that it also employs Dynamic Frequency Selection or DFS which allows on-the-fly access to a range of 5 Ghz channels from 52 to 144 (in North America) that are typically reserved for airplane radar. Due to the necessarily strict FCC regulations governing their use in routers most manufacturers avoid the technical hurdles involved in favor of the easier-to-implement and far more congested mainstream channels. But with DFS it’s (almost) like having your own private Wi-Fi channels.

With 1 WAN, 4 LAN, 2 USB2 and no less than 9 (yes, nine) antennas, one Portal can cover ~3k sq.ft. or it can be configured as a mesh network using a maximum of two Portals for ~6k sq.ft. The Portal site states there is “wireless and wired backhaul available” for communication between Portals. Unlike a tri-band router where the third band is used as a dedicated backhaul the Portal is only a dual-band device, though its backhaul doesn’t appear to adversely affect network speed. Finally, for you router geeks its firmware is based on OpenWRT.

Portal rear detail.
Portal rear detail.

I use a Portal mesh in my Wi-Fi challenged home and now have strong seamless coverage everywhere, and in my congested urban neighborhood I have the DFS channels all to myself. How do I know? I used a network scanner and everyone around me is fighting each other on the usual congested channels. So until my neighbors get wise and buy a DFS compatible router (very unlikely) I am an island in a sea of Wi-Fi congestion. Nice!

The mobile app is very basic but setup is quick and easy. Overall the Portal has been fast, stable and is the best performing router I’ve owned (so far). Plus it has an elegantly simple and clean aesthetic. My only complaints are that it doesn’t have a dedicated third band specifically for wireless backhaul, and that it uses USB 2.0 ports instead of 3.0.

Highly Recommended