Specifically - does the AP that the client is authenticated with mediate the communication between client and the DHCP server when the client first joins the network, or does the client talk directly to the DHCP server and the communication is not mediated by the AP until the client has gotten an address?

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DHCP runs over UDP over IP - it works the same whether wired or wireless. The DHCP client sends out a discover broadcast (which is bridged or optionally relayed by the WAP) and the DHCP server returns an offer. All you need is L2 connectivity which Wi-Fi and Ethernet provide alike.

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