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RIM offers free voice calls over Wi-Fi with BBM

TORONTO — BlackBerry users will be able to make free voice calls over a Wi-Fi network using the popular BBM messaging service.

Research In Motion Ltd. said Wednesday that it is adding the feature to BBM. Users will be able to switch back and forth from a text chat to a voice call. A split-screen option will let them talk and text at the same time.

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The feature is a free update for existing customers and comes months before RIM introduces its new BlackBerry 10 smartphones, which are seen critical to RIM’s survival.

RIM surprised analysts in September when it said the number of BlackBerry subscribers had grown, thanks in part to emerging markets and its popular BBM service. It is struggling in North America as customers migrate to iPhones and Android phones.

RIM said the BBM voice update is available for BlackBerry smartphones running the BlackBerry 6 operating system or higher, with plans for BlackBerry 5 later. The next version, BlackBerry 10, will come soon after a Jan. 30 launch event.

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