Like most other DWS, Portal sets up with an Android or iOS app, using a Bluetooth connection. One thing I didn't like was that the app forces you to enable your phone's location services any time you use the app. IDL said this was to make sure Portal wasn't being set up in a region it shouldn't be in due to its DFS support. But since you can enable Portal's web interface after initial setup and never have to deal with the app again, this strikes me as kind of silly.
On the positive side, IDL doesn't require you to create an account with them to set up Portal, so has no way to tie any information communicated during setup or operation to you. Only channel load, location and diagnostic info goes up to Portal's cloud; no useage history is sent.
The YouTube video below walks you through setting up the first Portal.
The next video describes adding the mesh node. I asked IDL if the Ethernet cable connection was required for mesh setup, since it's not part of any other DWS product mesh setup. They said it was a belt-and-suspenders approach to cover some rare cases they found that prevented proper mesh setup. The app omitted (or I didn't notice) the Ethernet cable connect step, so I actually was able to add a second portal without the cable.
When I realized my error, I tried to remove the second Portal to try again, but there is no way to do that. Long story short, I ended up using the "Remove as Admin" feature on the app Network Settings screen, deleting the app and using the reset button on both Portals to get everything back to factory-fresh mode to try again.
The app has a long way to go to equal the features and functions found in other DWS product apps, most notably Google WiFi's. Tapping the Internet icon brings up only Portal's WAN IP address. There is no way to run the usual internet speed test you find on other products. I'm also not sure why "Everything looks good" if the second portal is M.I.A. I unplugged it and did not receive notification that it was gone.
Portal app - Device settings
Tapping the Guest icon lets you add a Guest network and sometime in the future will also let you add another user. Tapping the Device icon brings up a screen with an icon for each connected device, but tapping the ? or device icon doesn't bring up any further device information.
After setup, you'll probably want to drive Portal using its web interface. To get there, tap the left hand Portal icon to bring up the Basic Device Settings screen and tap the Show Advanced Device Settings slider to expose the rest of the screen as shown below. The WebGUI Enabled slider is the control you want. Just tap it and you can then access the web interface at http://192.168.8.1 or http://myportalwifi.com. The Web GUI is also available via HTTPS, but you have to enter it explicitly, i.e. https://myportalwifi.com; it doesn't auto-redirect.
Portal app - Device settings
If you scan your two-Portal network with Fing or a similar network discovery tool, you'll find four Portal-related IP addresses. One is for each Portal and the other is for the monitor module in each Portal. Only the root Portal (the Internet-connected one) runs HTTP/S for GUI access. The others all run SSH with login credentials that were not obvious.
The screenshot below provides an overview of Portal's features, which are a little more extensive than you get with most DWS products. Let me rant a bit about the frickin' use of soft / pastel / low-contrast colors that seem to be de rigueur in interface design today. Maybe it's my monitor or just my aging eyes, but the Bridge Mode switch on the LAN screen sure looks "greyed out" to me (it's not). Same goes for other enables like Parental Control, Dynamic DNS and others.
Portal app - Device settings
I'm not going to go through the whole list, since the feature list is evolving. But a few things are worth noting:
- Bridge / AP mode is supported. So if you already have a router you're happy with and just want Portal for Wi-Fi, you can do it
- Only one satellite / extension Portal can be added. Not very mesh-y.
- Ethernet backhaul is not supported. So while you have to use a cable to activate the second Portal, you can't keep it connected that way.
- Per-band SSIDs are supported. Note you have to use the app to futz with anything SSID-related once you are in "Mesh mode". Same goes for setting Guest SSID.
- DHCP, Static, PPPoE and PPTP WAN connection types are supported. (L2TP will not be supported.)
- Can set DHCP address range and address reservations
- Single and port range forwarding (no triggered forwarding)
- Outbound service port and port range blocking
- DMZ support
- UPnP supported (disabled by default)
- Per-device internet access time control with one time period (Parental Control)
On the Wi-Fi side of things, of course the big news is all DFS channels are supported. IDL realizes not all devices support DFS channels, so they've provided three compatibility modes shown below. This came in handy, since the NETGEAR A6200 USB adapter I use for mesh tests wasn't able to see the 5 GHz network, which initially came up on Channel 100. Switching to Mode C moved the radio to Channel 36 and all was well. This setting is available only in the app.
Portal app - Compatibility mode
In fact, once you add the second Portal and activate mesh mode, you can't do anything with Wi-Fi settings in the web GUI. But even in the app, all you can do is enter the network password, set the SSID, and activate separate 2.4 and 5 GHz SSIDs. The app shows you the channels it's using, but you can't change them or any other Wi-Fi setting. Only WPA2/AES (no RADIUS) security is supported and WPS is not supported.
Band steering is supported using 802.11v and k for devices that support it and deauth and probe response witholding for devices that don't. In other words, IDL has tried to make band steering work for both old and new devices. AP steering (aka fast roaming / load balancing) is not yet supported, but planned for a release coming at the end of next month (March 2017).
As for cloud dependence, Portal didn't seem particularly tied to a cloud service for normal operation. I was able to run all our Wi-Fi and wired routing tests without having an active WAN connection. IDL told me Portal works just fine including DFS channel support without its cloud services. Portal's cloud supports coordinating neighboring Portals to optimize channel selection for best bandwidth for all and supports DNS protection, alerts, web portal relay for app access and other miscellaneous services.
Router geeks will like the Portal information (sample file) and logging feature. The latter requires a flash or hard drive in the USB-2 slot. This log is encrypted and intended for customer support purposes in case IDL needs to dig deep in to a customer problem.
The gallery below walks you through a few more of Portal's web GUI pages.