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This question stems from an answer to one of my previous questions. In that answer, Oskar Duveborn says the following:

Most likely there are some open source alternatives perhaps with custom firmware for some cheap consumer access point that can accomplish something similar with a central server - but I haven't researched that.

A central controller unit and a thinner kind of access point with not much logic except for the actual radio in them - connected to the controller by whatever means available - which will coordinate access, configuration, roaming and so forth. You can connect one of these light-weight access points anywhere in the world as long as it can talk to a linked controller - it will (if you want) appear as the same network.

So basically I'm wondering if anyone knows of such a system, or set of components that could make such a system? I've been Google-ing and researching but haven't been able to figure it out yet. Maybe there isn't something that will do it?

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Get some routers and install dd-wrt or similar firmware on it. It will give you access to all kinds of configuration options if you are familiar with Linux.

For your purpose of making one massive wireless network, you will need to ensure that all the routers use the same ESSID and encryption keys. DD-WRT would also give you the option of using more corporate schemes such as EAP.

Then you will need to bridge the two routers. This will depend on how far apart they are. If they are close enough, you can use a WDS bridge. If they are a little further, use a cable. If they are really far apart, you may need to have separate ISP connections and do some VPN-ing between.

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OpenWrt(.org) and Tomato are two other "similar firmware" alternatives to DD-Wrt. All three provide a solid linux environment on the router, which means configuration in text files, ssh and other secure services, and a scripting environment with basic utilities.

It sounds like you want a NIS/NIS+/NDS sort of thing for Access Points -- a centrally-managed repository of basic configuration files, the ability to push out changes to a (sub)set of the slaves at any given time. I don't know offhand if there's a particular project for that, but, assuming all your hardware is the same and all your software is the same for all APs, it shouldn't be hard to hand-roll something out of git and scp/rsync.

Any of these three firmwares would give you a solid foundation for that sort of project, and the hardware is cheap. There are certainly commercial solutions, but they may be more expensive or less functional than you want. And if some research doesn't turn up a significant FOSS project working on this problem, then you've found a good niche for one, right? :)

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Orangemesh/Openmesh can coordinate access, configuration, etc.

You get little Wifi APs with special firmware (or load the firmware on your own APs) and they become a wifi mesh cloud.

Unfortunately it is a Layer 3 mesh so you don't have normal Layer 2 Ethernet access to the local network. This is fine if you are trying to provide basic Internet access but may not fit your situation.

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