Apple is closer to launching its iPad 2 tablet with cellular network compatibility for the first time in China, and the company is also embarking upon an aggressive expansion in the fast-growth market, opening its first retail store in Hong Kong while adding another in Shanghai.

The new stores in China, expected to be open in late September, according to one report, is one sign the highly-anticipated iPhone 5 smartphone launch may be coming in October from Apple. An Apple spokesman said Tuesday the company's first Hong Kong store will open this quarter, and be located in a central shopping and business district.

Rumors have abounded for months about when Apple might release its new iPhone 5, an now Apple has confirmed the company will launch its first store in Hong Kong as the company seeks growth in Asia and nears release of its highly-anticipated iPhone 5.

Also, according to China's Telecommunication Equipment Certification Center, a device by Apple with third-generation high-speed wireless data capabilities has issued a network access license for Apple to begin official sales of its iPad 2 with cellular network capability in China, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Apple currently sells the 3G iPad 2 in Hong Kong, but currently sells only Wi-Fi versions of the tablet in mainland China.

Apple's iPhone, first launched in 2007, is the world's bestselling smartphone -- owned by more than 110 global consumers and growing fast every day. The company is nearing the launch of its latest version, the iPhone 5 -- and the move is likely well-timed just ahead of the product's release.

The new store will be Apple's fifth in China, but first in Hong Kong. Apple currently has two stores in Beijing and two in Shanghai. The new store will be located in Hong Kong's IFC mall.

Apple has not said when the store will open, but media reports suggest it may be Sept. 24. Apple has confirmed the store will open, however, leading some to speculate that's just ahead of an iPhone 5 October launch.

Several fake Apple stores in China were closed in July by authorities, while China remains a fast growing market for Apple. iPhone sales have boomed in the country this year, and many analysts think Apple has only scratched the surface of opportunity.

Previously, Apple has said the company would like to open 25 stores in China, but it has moved at a slow pace. Apple is also planning to open another store in Shanghai, in addition to the first Hong Kong store, and the new Shanghai store is to be Apple's largest in China.

Apple's China stores expansion ties in well with the latest news on the long-awaited date of the release of the iPhone 5, now considered by many to be in mid-October. An alleged screen shot of a memo for Best Buy, a leading U.S. retailer involved in the iPhone 5 launch, suggested in Internet rumors in recent days that mid-October is the date to watch.

Adding more fuel to the iPhone 5 October release date fire is a new report saying that Apple's Chinese subcontractors, FoxConn Technology and Pegatron Technology, have started producing the product. A Japanese IT Web site, Macotakara's danbo, said the two Chinese OEM companies have started production but that since Apple's iOS 5 system is not ready to install the assembled iPhone seems to be stocked without packaging.