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David McCabe Feb 22, 2017
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FCC clears first devices using LTE-U technology

Now that the FCC has finally signed off on the notion, T-Mobile plans to soon offer devices that support a controversial technology, known as LTE-U, that taps unlicensed spectrum to boost cell phone performance.

Decoded: LTE-U technology puts cellular devices in the frequencies usually reserved for use by technologies like WiFi, which don't require a license to occupy the airwaves. Backers of the tech claim that it doesn't cause interference — but have met resistance from some in industry who want to protect Wi-Fi.

The gritty details: The FCC on Wednesday approved the first LTE-U devices. "This is a great deal for wireless consumers, too," said Chairman Ajit Pai. "It means they get to enjoy the best of both worlds: a more robust, seamless experience when their devices are using cellular networks and the continued enjoyment of Wi-Fi, one of the most creative uses of spectrum in history." T-Mobile said that its customers "will be able to tap into the first 20 MHz of underutilized unlicensed spectrum on the 5GHz band and use it for additional LTE capacity" starting in the Spring.

What's next: Other carriers, including Verizon, are likely to follow in T-Mobile's footsteps, seizing on a way to boost their networks without having to pay for the additional spectrum. And, after years of squabbling, it will soon become clear whether LTE-U does or doesn't interfere with Wi-Fi.