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Apple is prepping a 9.6-inch touch-screen tablet that will include snappy wireless hardware - although it appears that AT&T's struggling infrastructure may be chosen to service the li'l fellow.

That is, if the latest round of rumors out of Taiwan are true. The Taiwan Economic News today reported that the tablet will run between $799 and $999 when it hits the shelves early next year, and will be powered by a chip developed by the PA Semi team that Cupertino acquired last year.

The TEN report focuses on the Taiwanese suppliers that have won contracts to serve up parts for the overgrown iPhone, but there are intriguing tidbits to be gleaned from its reportage.

For example, battery-maker DynaPak, according to the report, has won an exclusive contract to supply "up to 300,000" battery packs per month for the tablet. Even the most math-challenged can divine that Apple is targeting a top-end of 3.6 million tablet sales during a year of that contract.

The report's mention of PA Semi is no surprise, however, considering that shortly after acquiring that company, Apple CEO Steve Jobs told The New York Times that "PA Semi is going to do system-on-chips for iPhones and iPods."

No, the purported tablet isn't specifically an iPhone or iPod, but it almost certainly would share their lineage.

What is interesting is the report's mention of high-speed downlink packet access (HSDPA), a downlink technology that, when linked with enhanced uplink (EUL) tech, is known simply as HSPA.

And 7.2Mbps HSPA is the technology that Apple's exclusive iPhone partner, AT&T, is desperately scurrying to upgrade to in the US, along with a backhaul infrastructure upgrade to handle the increased bandwidth.

If the TEM report is accurate, US iPhone users grumbling over AT&T's spotty and feature-cramped service may be joined early next year by Apple tablet users grumbling over AT&T's spotty and feature-cramped service.

But, of course, it's wise to take any rumors of an imminent tablet with an entire shovel-load of NaCl. Rumors of the elusive item have been swirling since at least November 2002 - although they've grown louder in recent months.

Here at The Reg, for example, we've reported on other Chinese rumors in March, May and July; an analyst's touchy-feely experience; purported photos of the device itself; a generic place-holder name in a plist file; and other rumblings.

The consensus points to early next year. Until then, Apple fanbois will have to content themselves with singing along with Tony from West Side Story:

Something's comin', I don't know what it is
But it is
Gonna be great!

We'll see. ®

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