BBM Voice to give BlackBerry users free voice calling over Wi-Fi

A BlackBerry handset is displayed in Washington, December 15, 2011. (Reuters)RIM is seeking to build excitement ahead of its BlackBerry 10 launch on January 30th, and this latest announcement that essentially lets BBM users make long distance calls for free might be a good start at getting people excited about the brand again.

In an announcement on Wednesday, RIM revealed that their new BBM Voice feature is available to test in beta, and will allow users to have voice chats through BBM. Currently, it only works on devices operating BlackBerry OS 6 or higher, ZDNet reports, but OS 5 will also be supported "at a later date."

"The new BBM Voice feature is for when you're travelling and you want to call home without worrying about phone charges," said RIM's vice president of BBM and social communities T.A. McCann in a statement.

[ Related: RIM to introduce new BlackBerry 10 devices on January 30 ]

The only catch is users will only be able to take advantage of this feature over a Wi-Fi connection, so don't expect to make long-distance calls for free if you aren't near a hotspot. With an ever-increasing number of businesses, public spaces and transportation services now offering Wi-Fi, however, it shouldn't be too difficult to take advantage of the service.

According to Mobile Syrup, users enter the BBM Chat client, where they have the added option to start a voice chat with a fellow user who is also BBM Voice-enabled. At the top of the display, an indicator will appear that shows whether the user is online, offline, or in a voice chat. Users can start a Voice call from a text BBM chat, or have a text conversation while in a voice call.

Senior Product Manager for BBM James Tantram told Mobile Syrup that there are now 60 million BBM users worldwide.

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The announcement also serves as a precursor to the previously announced BBM Video, which has been confirmed by RIM CEO Thorsten Heins as a feature that will come with BlackBerry 10.

Here's a preview of the new BlackBerry 10, as shown in Ottawa during a government sneak peek event:

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