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Rumour: Mobile networks are now testing iPhone 5

The iPhone 5 rumour mill cranked up a few RPMs with murmurs that the next-generation Apple handset has been passed to network operators for real world testing.

The Guardian's technology blog says secret sources within the cellular industry have revealed that Apple has dispatched test units, disguised in fake shells and locked in highly secure boxes, in order to make sure they work with each operator's network infrastructure.

The report says that only a few boffins with ultra-high security clearance get to lay their hands on the hardware as they test them for flaws along the lines of the whole Antennagate saga which surrounded the launch of the iPhone 4 last year.

Apple has also been known to allow some of its employees to walk around Cupertino campus and its environs carrying upcoming handsets disguised as older models, a policy which led to an embarrassing leak when one such employee left a prototype iPhone 4 on a barstool on a beery night out.

The Guardian blog suggests that carriers doing hands-on testing of the hardware points to a September release for the much-anticipated handset which has been the subject of more rumour and conjecture than any bit of kit since the last iPhone launch.

Depending on where you go for your techie tittle tattle, the iPhone 5 could be launched any time between September 14th and the very end of October.

As long as all is well within the State of Cupertino, and Steve is happy with the new hardware, we'd be willing to bet on a September launch as giving the iPhone 5 an extra six weeks on sale in the run up to the non-denominational gift-giving festival formerly known as Christmas will boost sales no end.

Occasionally accurate component industry diggers at Digitimes are also banking on an early launch with their report that newly installed secondary manufacturer Pegatron is planning to ship 10 million units of the smartphone in September.