The Apple iPhone 5 release date may not be that far off, judging by a hint dropped by a top Verizon executive that industry observers are interpreting to mean that the long-awaited smartphone will hit stores by the end of 2012.

Verizon Chief Financial Offer Francis J. Shammo made remarks during the mobile company's quarterly conference call Thursday, making mention of a new phone coming out in the fourth quarter.

The remark came during a dicussion of what the company is doing via new policies and fees in order for the company's phone upgrade policy to make better economic sense as smartphone prices continue to rise.

We've made a lot of moves in the last year and a half around restructuring our upgrade policies. As you know, we've launched our $30 upgrade fee, Shammo explained during the call with investors and other Verizon executives. Obviously, this all has an impact on the level of upgrades and then of course, there is always that rumour mill out there with a new phone coming out in the fourth quarter. And so people may be waiting, but look, we manage this on a quarter-to-quarter basis.

The new iPhone, expected to be dubbed the Apple iPhone 5, was not mentioned during the call, but the overwhelming buzz surrounding the phone made it clear that Shammo was more than likely speaking of the new Apple smartphone.

The Apple iPhone 5 release date was also by no means confirmed, but the fact that he mentioned the fourth quarter adds credibility to what was already a considerable amount of speculation that it may come out some time in October.

Some rumors have the new Apple iPhone coming out as soon as August or September, but Shammo's comments seem to shift the odds slightly toward a fourth quarter release date.

A number of sources have reported that the Apple iPhone 5 is already in production in China, and Reuters has reported that China's largest e-commerce website, Taobao, is already selling pre-orders of the new phone, augmented by renderings and technical specs.

Adding to the rumor mill Shammo mentioned is another recent report that seems to give credence to the suggestion that the Apple iPhone 5 release date will not be as early as August.

Boy Genius Report took on the rumored August 7 release date, and cited trusted sources which said Apple is currently testing 4G/LTE connectivity for its new iPhones, and that as such a release before September or October seems unlikely.

But speculation is pretty much all there is in the world of Apple iPhone 5 release date news and other information about the eagerly-anticipated device, so the comments by an official as high-level as Shammo brings a lot of weight and builds buzz for Apple fans who can't get enough info about Apple's next smartphone.

For now though, the world will have to continue to wait for Apple to announce when it will release its new iPhone.