Despite being the world’s most popular smartphone, the iPhone is yet to make an appearance in the Chinese wireless carrier market. Today, an iPhone (5?) apparently running on China Mobile’s TD-SCDMA network has been caught in the wild, which is sure to give hope to those in China desirous of an iPhone.

iPhone 5 China Mobile

Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs expressed interest in developing an iPhone for China Mobile’s 4G TD-SCDMA network back in March. Recently, Apple COO Tim Cook personally flew to China to presumably negotiate on an iPhone-on-China-Mobile deal.

Today’s photo, which comes from Sohu, just may be of the rumored, in-development iPhone.

The interesting thing about this entire scenario is how it all sort of fits in to the rumored announcement/launch of the iPhone 5. We’ve been hearing of a September release for a long, long time and a 4G capable iPhone 5 running on China Mobile sounds plausible.

But then again, the iPhone featured in the photograph below looks exactly like the iPhone 4, which goes against all the rumors indicating an all-new design for the next-gen iPhone.

Still, there are various indicators that make us think of the prototype to be authentic: Firstly, and most importantly, the baseband 06.10.01 is completely new. Secondly, there is no IMEI number to be seen. Devices used for network testing normally do not have IMEI numbers. iPhone prototypes (such as the one that was being sold on eBay for $100,000+) never come with IMEI numbers either!

Photographs of prototype devices tend to be blurry, out-of-focus and discolored; this one possesses all such characteristics:

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Now this all could be in preparation for an iPhone launch on China Mobile. The model may be in use for testing the TD-SCDMA telecommunications standard, which is obviously different from the GSM and CDMA standards in use in America.

China is the most populous country in the world today and its wireless carrier subscriber market is equally large. The state-owned telecommunication network has over 600 million subscribers making it the largest mobile phone operator in the world.

Now, everyone can’t afford an iPhone, but one would imagine any fraction of 600 million people ordering an iPhone would be a score for Apple.

The photo can be fake, of course. But the fact that Apple actually, recently, categorically stated that they want an iPhone running on China Mobile supports for the prototype to be real.

Although the device in the photo looks like an iPhone 4, we are hoping that – if a 4G iPhone does in fact launch in China, it would be the iPhone 5. The next-gen iPhone is expected to launch in September this year with upgraded hardware: faster, dual core A5 processor, more memory, an 8 megapixel digital shooter and, hopefully, 4G LTE support.

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