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This is a great idea, well done! I think as a next step you should look a bit more into routers themselves. You can flash them with an opensource os like openwrt [1] and run a chat (or some kind of communication) server on it so everybody connected to the same wifi can freely exchange data.

This way you can turn any wireless capable [2] machine into a small community network.

> great use case I've seen are college campuses where thousands of students connect to the same WiFi,

This is indeed a great use case. Right now you're only thinking about chat but its got more applications like semi-remote teaching,tests ,role calls etc. But (I think) its far easier to realize it if you work at the network level rather than at the app level.

Best of luck!!!!

[1] https://openwrt.org

[2] router, raspberry pi, laptop, your phone

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