Optus is hoping to glean data about its network performance from customers with Android devices using a network test that runs in the background of its mobile news application.
The carrier said today it would upgrade the OptusNow app — currently an unmetered source of news and weather for Optus mobile users — to "include some technical smarts that test the network".
The test checks signal strength, signal-to-noise ratio, wifi connection, time/locale/latitude/longitude, cell site, battery percentage, SIM ID, APN, whether the user has switched LTE on or off, and the make/model of the handset.
The data is gathered using a "combination of documented and undocumented APIs", an Optus spokesperson said, noting that the API for "4G signal-to-noise ... is still quite new" and as-yet undocumented by Google.
Users can opt-out of the "network data collection" and are notified of the app's new capabilities on download or upgrade, Optus said.
Devices are polled for data typically "once every two hours," the Optus spokesperson said.
Access to the app and its contents are unmetered, meaning the scans would not eat into data allowances.
The spokesperson also provided assurances that the network testing wouldn't act as an unwanted drain on the device battery.
"The app has little to no impact on battery life as it piggybacks network checks on other activities carried out on the phone - for example, sending and receiving small amounts of data only when the user opens a Google Maps or a Facebook session where a location look-up is initiated," the spokesperson said.
"Otherwise, it will generally conduct a scan once every two hours."
Data logged from the scans is transmitted in an anonymised state to an Optus data centre.
"The app collects high-level network data that remains anonymous," the spokesperson said.
Optus hopes the data will help it identify "areas to upgrade, locations of blackspots, mobile phone faults, call dropout locations and the strength of coverage inside buildings".
The Android version of the OptusNow app currently has at least 500,000 installs, according to Google Play figures.
It isn't the first app to use Android APIs to get a measure of mobile signal and network performance.
Earlier this year, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) released an app that can log the signal strength experienced by users and collapse it into a file that can be sent to telcos as evidence of network issues.