When I first learned about the Portal a few months ago, it was intended to be a single Wi-Fi router. Now Ignition Design Labs has reintroduced it as a mesh system, meaning you can use a second unit to extend its Wi-Fi network.
While it works fine as a single router, it’s not a well thought-out or well tested mesh Wi-Fi system. And it certainly isn’t worthy of its current price of around $180 for a single unit or $319 for a set of two.
Why should I care about yet another Wi-Fi system?
Good question. What makes the Portal different from the most Wi-Fi routers is a dynamic frequency selection (DFS) mechanism Ignition Design Labs calls FastLanes. The router can use Wi-Fi channels that were previously only available to radar systems to boost speed at peak times (around 6-8 p.m. wherever you live). This means that FastLanes will only benefit those who’ve had speed or connection problems during peak times in the past. I personally didn’t see any improvement at home, but your mileage will vary depending your internet speed and how congested the air space in your neighborhood is.
The real problem with Fastlanes, however, is that not every product is compatible with it. Here’s a short list of those that aren’t and therefore will only connect to the 2.4GHz frequency band of the Portal (FastLanes is only available on the 5GHz band.) Since the the 2.4GHz’s airspace is almost always congested, which is why we need the 5GHz band in the first place, FastLanes will mean extremely slow Wi-Fi for certain devices.
FastLanes is turned on by default. When turned off, the Portal will support all existing devices.
OK, here’s what’s (mostly) good
Setting up the Portal is similar to that of the Google Wifi or the Eero. But you don’t need to create an account with Ignition Design Labs. As with most home routers, the system does not require you to connect to the vendor in order to work.
The Portal mobile app (available for Android and iOS) was buggy, however. I used it on a Pixel XL and the interface would freeze while applying changes or switching from one section to another. Still, it took me just 10 minutes to set up the first router. Basically, all I had to do was pick a name and a password for the Wi-Fi network.
Adding a second unit to create a mesh system took me much longer but most of the time was spent on waiting for the system to be ready. The process itself was still simple and relatively straightforward.
Supporting AC2400 Wi-Fi, the Portal performed well both as a single router and a mesh Wi-Fi system. As a single router, it has a top sustained real-world Wi-Fi speed of more than 540 megabits per second. As a Wi-Fi system, when connected to the second unit, the top speed fell to just 244Mbps, due to signal loss. Signal loss is a common phenomenon of Wi-Fi systems, when the “satellite” unit needs to both receive and rebroadcast the Wi-Fi signal from the first router unit at any given time, resulting in some 50 percent efficiency reduction. Dynamic frequency selection (FastLanes) is supposed to mitigate this phenomenal but it doesn’t seem help in the Portal’s case.
The Portal has good range. As a single unit, it could cover about 2,800 square feet of a residential setting with strong a Wi-Fi signal, with two units combined into a mesh network, you now can cover easily around 5,000 square feet or even more.