The Commerce Department recommended on Monday that some airwaves used by federal agencies be freed up to address the burgeoning use of wireless devices.

The Obama administration in June endorsed making 500 megahertz of spectrum available over the next 10 years to meet the growing demand for wireless services on laptops and smartphones, such as Apple Inc's iPhone.

The Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released a report on Monday identifying 115 megahertz of spectrum that could be reallocated to wireless broadband services within five years.

"We have identified the first steps for unlocking a significant amount of the spectrum needed to reach the president's 10-year goal," Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said in a statement.

Airwaves used by Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellites to disseminate severe weather alerts as well as by the Defense Department's radar systems on ships would be reallocated or shared under the recommendations.

SPECTRUM CRUNCH

Wireless companies have lobbied for help to deal with a looming spectrum crunch as more consumers turn to mobile devices to surf the Web.

"The report makes very clear that the days of easily finding spectrum to be dedicated to new uses are over," said Harold Feld, legal director of the public interest group Public Knowledge.

In the next five years, transmission of wireless data could surge between 20 and 45 times 2009 levels, estimates suggest.

The Federal Communications Commission, which manages commercial spectrum licenses, and the Commerce Department, which oversees government spectrum, have been working together to locate unused spectrum.

"The future of our mobile economy depends on spectrum, America's invisible infrastructure," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said, adding that the FCC and NTIA would continue to partner to make the best use of available spectrum.

AT&T Inc, Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile, the U.S. unit of Deutsche Telekom AG, are among wireless companies seeking more spectrum. Verizon Wireless is a venture of Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc.

CTIA, the trade association for the wireless industry, commended NTIA's effort to free up government spectrum, but said it was "just a start."

The report recommends some limitations on the use of federal spectrum to protect government and commercial operations already reliant on these airwaves, and its recommendations are contingent on funding being made available to ease the transition for federal agencies.

"While we are committed to spurring innovation, we will not sacrifice public safety," Locke said.

LONG-TERM APPROACH

In addition to the report on its fast-tracked goal for five years, NTIA released a broader plan and timetable for meeting the administration's 10-year target that includes input from the FCC and other agencies.

NTIA laid out plans to evaluate 2,200 megahertz of spectrum -- of which 28 percent is currently used solely by the government -- with the potential for wireless broadband use.

The report also reiterated the administration's support for legislation to promote voluntary incentive auctions to encourage current spectrum holders to relinquish some airwaves.

Senator John Kerry, current chair of the Commerce subcommittee on communications, technology and the Internet, said spectrum would be a priority in next year's Congress.

"Technologies that we can't even imagine today will transform our lives in the coming years, and private firms need access to more space in the public airwaves so they can innovate and unleash that next generation of jobs here in America," he said in a statement.

Making any new spectrum available for wireless companies will require regulations from the FCC, and the process is likely to be a long one.

NTIA's reallocation of 225 megahertz of spectrum in 1995 began two-and-a-half years prior and was not auctioned by the FCC until 2006. The spectrum is still in transition while agencies continue to relocate their operations, NTIA said.

Public Knowledge's Feld said while some spectrum should be auctioned, NTIA and FCC could make certain spectrum "available quickly through sharing, reuse and other techniques."