Review: Portal goes where no Wi-Fi router has gone before

Device aimed at urban environments where lots of other Wi-Fi exists

Portal Wi-Fi router
Credit: Ignition Design Labs LLC
At a Glance
  • PORTAL Turbocharged Self-Optimizing Urban WiFi Gigabit Router

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    on Amazon

The Portal router is a new class of Wi-Fi router, utilizing frequency bands not seen in other Wi-Fi products, whether a more traditional Wi-Fi router or some of the newer Wi-Fi mesh products. It’s still a dual-band (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) router, but includes additional spectrum within the 5GHz space (designated as part of the Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure).

The Portal router has the permission of the FCC to share some of the spectrum normally reserved for radar (U-NII-2 and U-NII-23). This gives Portal 15 extra channels to work with, in the frequency ranges from 5.260 to 5.700 GHz, where other routers in the U-NII-1 and UNII-3 space can operate across 9 channels in the 5.180-5.240 GHz range and 5.745-5.825 range. Because those ranges are also unlicensed, Portal can make use of those too, so in essence you would get 24 channels across the entire 5.180 through 5.825 GHz range.

Portal uses this additional frequency to improve router speeds, especially in an urban environment, where lots of Wi-Fi routers (say, for example, in a skyscraper or large apartment building) might be competing for the same channels and frequency bands.

Now, the Cool Tools Testing House might not be in an urban environment, but I do have a lot of Wi-Fi running (the ‘production’ network that the kids and spouse use and a secondary network for testing). For this test, I added the portal to this network, in effect creating three different Wi-Fi networks in relatively the same space. The air also includes Wi-Fi signals (although they’re weaker signals) from at least three other neighbors. During the test I counted 13 different SSIDs that my computer could have connected to.

Setup of the Portal router is straightforward – the kit comes with an Ethernet cable that you plug into your broadband modem/gateway (in my case, one of the extra LAN ports from the gateway), then power up the router with the power cable. The router runs through some boot-up cycle to turn its light green, then it instructs you to download the Portal WiFi Router app from the iOS or Google Play app store (interestingly, typing in Portal in the search bar brings up gaming apps, so you have to type in “Portal WiFi Router” to find it).

Setup then has you connecting your mobile device to the router, in order to configure its settings and then reconfigure the device’s SSID and password. Once that’s set, you can see the main dashboard for your network, which provides information on whether the Internet is working, how many guests are on the network (if guest network is enabled), and how many devices are there.

Clicking each of the icons (like “Internet” for example) reveals information about that segment. Internet gives you the device’s WAN address, the “Portal” icon gives you the SSID, password, operating channel, and advanced device settings option.

By default, the ability to create separate network names for the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz networks is turned off – you can turn this on later if you want to create separate names for networks so older devices that don’t support 5 GHz can connect to a different network. However, this does affect data transfer speeds on the LAN (see our performance testing, below). There’s also an option for Compatibility mode, which lets the router change the channels on a client device if the device doesn’t support Dynamic Frequency Selection (the ability to avoid the radar frequency). Most newer devices (phones, tablets, TVs, etc.) support DFS, so compatibility mode would only be needed if you had older clients needing to connect to the router.

Beamforming and wireless security mode is also enabled by default, that’s good to see. An interesting security feature – the mobile app has an option to enable a Web GUI for browser access to the router. Normally, the browser can access the router through its IP address (in Portal’s case, 192.168.8.1), but if the mobile app hasn’t enabled the GUI, you can’t access it with a browser. Portal says this is done to prevent possible attacks, in which a default admin password (such as ‘password’) is used and not changed. In this case, Portal lets the mobile user decide whether to enable the Web GUI, at which point you’d hope that the user then accesses the dashboard with his browser and then changes the password to something more secure.

The app itself is basic – it could use some tweaking to provide users with more information about the network, status of devices connected to the network, etc. Having done many reviews with the wireless mesh vendors and seeing their apps, they have a lot more data available to the mobile user. For example, on the client devices side, I could only see the names of the clients that were connecting to the network, with no additional details such as IP address, device type, etc. The folks at Portal can do better here, I’m sure.

Speed tests

Chart LAN speed tests Portal Wi-Fi Network World

For some odd reason, the speeds in the second location during the combined network test produced a faster data rate than from the first location.

MU-MIMO testing

Because the system supported beamforming, I also ran a streaming video test, in which I have three streams of video traffic (Netflix, YouTube and video from the central storage box) running at the same time.

Portal chart MU-MIMO tests Network World

Note that I got a faster rate on the combined network from the first location with the beamforming than when there was no network traffic.

Other features

The Web GUI, once enabled, provides a very nice display and dashboard for users accustomed to tweaking router settings via their computer. It also lets you enable advanced features such as port forwarding, checking IP addresses on the WAN or LAN, or setting up a guest network.

The router does have parental controls, but they are very basic – it lets you choose a device connected to the network and effectively block access, picking days or times in which that device can’t access the network. I’ve seen better approaches towards parental controls through other routers and stand-alone devices.

Bottom line: I was impressed with the Portal’s ability to set up quickly via mobile app, it’s very good LAN performance speeds and beamforming abilities and access to advanced features. The ability to access the additional frequency bands should appeal to users in urban environments if they find that their Wi-Fi traffic is being slowed by multiple other channels and routers within the small space. Improvements can be made to the app to provide more data for the end user, but other than that it’s a solid choice in the home Wi-Fi space.

Grade: 4 stars (out of five)

Related video (from vendor):

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At a Glance
  • PORTAL Turbocharged Self-Optimizing Urban WiFi Gigabit Router

    View
    on Amazon
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