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Monday, December 10, 2012

BlackBerry Phones Get Free Calls Over Wi-Fi

By using Research In Motion's exclusive data network, the BlackBerry Messenger service, or BBM, has long allowed its users to avoid texting charges from their wireless carriers. On Monday, RIM added dodging voice charges to BBM's list of features.

RIM introduced an upgrade for BlackBerry phones that will allow their owners to make free calls to anywhere in the world through Wi-Fi connections. As with all things BBM, the catch is that the person on the other end of the call must also be a BlackBerry user, a group which is declining in the United States.

RIM has long maintained close ties to wireless carriers. Jan Dawson, a telecommunications analyst with Ovum, said that free calling through BBM Voice was unlikely to undermine that relationship. He said that locations with Wi-Fi usually have conventional landline phones already providing an alternative to wir eless voice calls. When that's combined with a trend toward flat-rate wireless billing plans from carriers and the fact that the new service only works between BlackBerrys, “that will relegate it to a very small minority of overall calling scenarios and therefore carrier impact will be minimal,” Mr. Dawson wrote in an e-mail.

He added: “On the other hand, if Apple ever does something like this on the iPhone, that might have a much bigger impact.”

In a statement, John Walls, a spokesman for CTIA, the wireless industry trade group, suggested that the new feature might be a gain for the industry.

“Wireless carriers are operating tens of thousands of Wi-Fi hotspots around the United States, and consumers are the beneficiaries of such innovative solutions that are the result of a competitive, responsive industry,” he wrote.

The upgrade, which is being offered at no charge, is for current BlackBerry models. While the company's announcement did n ot indicate what it has planned for the BlackBerry 10 phones, which will be unveiled at the end of January, it has said that the version of BBM for those phones will include several new features.