The FCC has officially certified the first devices that are capable of LTE-U operations, using unlicensed spectrum in and around the 5 gigahertz area to power LTE devices. While this move does not support any handsets on the market right now in their current form, future phones will be certified to draw LTE signal from 5 gigahertz spectrum that is currently unused in the area. These devices cannot invade currently used airwaves, but can claim them and keep Wi-Fi devices from using them, which means that the 5 gigahertz spectrum area could become just a bit more congested in some areas depending on how many LTE-U devices are around. A coexistence plan is out there, but the FCC's certification does not require devices to follow it.
Wireless carriers have been clamoring about LTE-U for quite some time, and for good reason. LTE-U drawn from the 5 gigahertz range can be quite speedy and boast good capacity, and carriers do not have to pay for licenses or maintain this spectrum the way they have to maintain spectrum that they actually own. With this certification, all a carrier has to do is flip the switch on their cellular base stations that support it or install ones that do, and supported devices will be able to utilize LTE-U.
No existing consumer devices support LTE-U in the 5 gigahertz band out of the box. Current devices either lack the hardware for it, or would have to be recertified by the FCC prior to turning on the feature on the software side. Compared to simply putting out the standard by default in newer devices, this is an impractical solution, and is not ideal for device manufacturers, since it would give users less reason to buy new devices. Doubtlessly, once the switches are flipped on the base stations and LTE-U compatibility begins to spread, some users will at least consider unlawfully unlocking the capability by modifying their existing devices. It will be interesting to see how the FCC addresses this; they could punish users who do so, make it easier for device makers to recertify devices, make sweeping changes to the law in order to allow current devices to use LTE-U if their hardware is compatible, or simply order their carriers to shut them down.