By Khurram Aziz | Nov 29, 2012 12:35 PM EST
The iPhone 5 could soon be heading to China after regulators there approved Apple's flagship smartphone for a "network access license."
The approval means that the phone could soon be carried by Apple's Chinese partners including China Telecom and China Unicom.
"Vendors in China often start selling new handsets within weeks of approval by China's Telecommunication Equipment Certification Center (TENAA)," WSJ said.
The network access license is the final stage of the approval process for the device after it had already been cleared by two other Chinese regulatory bodies in September and October.
TENAA's Web site does not reveal the name of the devices, but pictures posted on it appear to be of the iPhone 5.
One model, numbered A1429, is built for a WCDMA 3G network and is expected to be made available to China Unicom's 233 million mobile users. The other version, numbered A1442, is built for a CDMA2000 3G network, and is most likely destined for China Telecom which has 155 million mobile users.
Apple launched the iPhone 5 in September in the US and several Asian countries including Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong, but not China, where regulatory hurdles tend to cause delays.
Apple CEO Tim Cook has previously said that he expects the smartphone to go on sale in China by the end of this year. However, this delay in bringing its devices to Chinese consumers has fuelled a gray market in which unofficial vendors buy the products overseas and then sell them at higher prices to Chinese customers unwilling to wait - sometimes at more than $200 above market price.
The demand for Apple's products is high in the country and the launch of its iPhone 4S in January caused dramatic scenes of customers rushing to stores to buy the product. Things got so out of hand that Apple temporarily stopped all iPhone 4S sales at its physical stores in the major cities of Beijing and Shanghai.
The Chinese market is lucrative for the US company which is currently involved in a fierce battle to control the smartphone and tablet market against South Korean rival Samsung.
Apple's China sales were reportedly worth $5.7 billion in the third fiscal quarter of 2012, or roughly 16% of the company's global total.