Despite those rumors that Apple’s iPhone 5 won’t arrive until at least October, the U.K.’s The Guardian newspaper claims carriers are already testing the fifth-generation device — which could mean that its launch is a lot closer than you think.

Apple briefcaseIn typical Apple fashion, these devices are said to be distributed in sealed boxes and only accessibly by a small number of high-level staff. They’re also encased in a “dummy body” which gives no indication of what the device may look like, and disguises any obvious new features. You may remember that Apple did the same thing with that iPhone 4 prototype famously picked up in a bar before the device’s launch. This was sealed inside a case fashioned to look like the iPhone 3GS so that no one really knew a new iPhone was inside at first glance.

According to The Guardian’s source, it’s common practice for carriers to receive Apple’s smartphones ahead of launch so that they can test them for compatibility with their network:

My carrier sources tell me that the boxes in which the new iPhone hardware is encased have been transported to carriers for testing. This is an important step in the release cycle for any phone. … The next iPhones go for their testing inside locked and sealed boxes so that the carriers can carry out checks on their network compatibility in their labs. It’s very high security, as you could guess; my understanding is that barely anyone inside the carriers gets to open those boxes, and even when they do the hardware is encased in a dummy body which means there’s no clue to what the actual phone will do.

The source also claims that Apple only sends its devices out to carriers several weeks before they’re set to launch — suggesting the iPhone 5′s release could be a lot sooner than we think. Of course, Apple may have given carriers more time for testing with this generation to ensure there isn’t a repeat of the whole ‘Antennagate‘ fiasco, but some (including me) believe the device is still on course for that much-anticipated September launch.

I’m still placing my money on a launch next month — probably alongside Apple’s next-generation iPods. What do you think?

[via MacRumors]