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Tuesday, August 16, 2011, 10:25 am PT (01:25 pm ET)

Photo shows alleged LTE 4G equipment installed at Apple Store

A new photo claims to show high-speed LTE 4G equipment from AT&T being installed at a "major" Apple retail store, increasing speculation that Apple could launch a 4G device in the near future.

The spy shot of alleged 4G equipment was sent to Engadget by an anonymous source, and is said to show equipment capable of supporting the 700MHz and AWS bands AT&T plans to use for its long-term evolution network.

"The Apple Store in question, and all those in the region, are now trying to increase staffing on the sales floor by about 30 percent, which is apparently not related to the usual hiring in the lead up to the holidays (that will apparently happen later)," the report said.

The new photograph comes on the heels of another recent claim that some of Apple's carrier partners are already testing a 4G-capable LTE iPhone. The prototype handset is rumored to already be in the hands of some carriers, though there has been no indication that the forthcoming fifth-generation iPhone will be a 4G device.

Similarly, the photo of purported 4G hardware at an Apple Store offers no specific indication that Apple's next iPhone will be a 4G device. Author Donald Melanson noted that the hardware could be "the result of some long-term planning," but added that the timing is "curious to say the least."

AT&T plans to have its 4G network available to 70 million customers in 15 markets by the end of 2011. The carrier also announced on Tuesday that its first 4G devices, which will offer high-speed data connections on devices like laptops, will arrive in stores on August 21, and data plans will cost $50 per month for 5GB.

[::image removed upon request of the source::]

Rival carrier Verizon, which also offers the iPhone, already launched its own 4G LTE network in late 2010. Verizon also has a handful of Android-powered handsets that are 4G-capable.

But battery life with many first-generation LTE smartphones has been an achilles heel thus far. Those issues were cited by Apple Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook this April, when he indicated his company was in no rush to adopt 4G.

"The first generation of LTE chipsets force a lot of design compromises with the handset, and some of those we are just not willing to make," he said during a quarterly earnings conference call.