In a move to bring free voice communications to existing BlackBerry users, RIM launched BlackBerry Messenger 7 beta earlier this week. BBM 7 beta features BBM Voice – a voice chat service over WiFi. Currently only available via the BlackBerry Beta Zone, it is a signal that soon all 60 million BlackBerry Messenger users will be able to make free calls worldwide.
According to T.A. McCann, Vice President of BBM and Social Communities at RIM:
“The new BBM Voice feature is for when you’re travelling and you want to call home without worrying about phone charges. It’s for when you have news you can’t wait to share, for quickly explaining complicated details, and collaborating with colleagues. Whenever your ideas are too big for text, there’s BBM Voice.”
Here are the conditions for placing free BBM to BBM calls:
- Both parties must have installed BlackBerry Messenger 7 beta
- register in the BlackBerry Beta Zone
- a release version will appear in BlackBerry App World once any issues found in the beta are resolved
- Both parties must be on a WiFi connection
- does not require a wireless carrier connection
- however, you must have a carrier service plan
- Currently supported on BlackBerry OS 6 and OS 7
- Will support BlackBerry OS 5 in released version
- and, of course, both parties must be BlackBerry Messenger contacts
- and with a status of “Available”
When a contact meets all the above conditions and is able to accept a voice call the “voice” icon in the upper right of the screen is green (otherwise it is grey). Click on the green “voice” icon and a call to the contact is launched. During a call there are options:
- to change to speakerphone,
- to return to the chat session
- to check other chat sessions
- to switch to any other running program
CrackBerry.com provides a demonstration of BBM Voice here.
Over my first day using BBM Voice I made three calls using my BlackBerry 9800 Torch with OS 6. But first a background to what we found was the amazing bonus. If you have followed this blog over the past few years you know I have lauded Skype’s crystal clear voice using its SILK technology. Its crispness makes conversations more effective as accents and tonal inflections are much more easily understood. It’s a productivity booster for anyone running a support operation. I long for the day when all voice calls can be “wideband” but this requires significant infrastructure change behind making voice calls.
Perhaps you have also noted that calls over the normal wireless carriers can be difficult to follow at times. Voices sound squishy; accents confuse. Ironically I have often found it difficult to follow cell phone calls while driving down the main street of Silicon Valley.
On all three BBM Voice calls we found the voice quality to be just as crystal clear as a Skype-to-Skype call.
On all three BBM Voice calls we found the voice quality to be just as crystal clear as a Skype-to-Skype call. It’s much better than the voice quality of a normal cell phone call over the wireless carriers’ network. In fact, RIM must be using at least a wideband codec, such as AMR-WB with BBM Voice. As a side issue, it also demonstrates the audio quality of the BlackBerry microphone and speaker.
Why only WiFi? All the IP-based services on smartphones started out over WiFi only and only later migrated to support calling over carrier networks. It was over a year from the time Skype for iPhone launched before it was available over 3G carrier networks. Apple’s Facetime, launched a couple of years ago, is only now starting to work over carrier networks. This path provides a way to test out the service across a broad audience without the complications required for going over the carrier networks. I would suspect BBM 7 Voice over WiFi is a precursor to having it available over carrier networks on the launch of BlackBerry 10 January 30, 2013.
The other question, given that RIM has demonstrated Video Chat as an application on the PlayBook, is whether the launch of BlackBerry 10 will also include BBM Video as another BlackBerry Messenger feature.
Bottom line: over the years there have been many attempts to offer free IP-based calling services; most have failed due to an inability to build a significant user base – and the fact that Skype users already have access to over 280 million active users. With a 60 million-strong BlackBerry Messenger registered user base, BBM Voice has a significant starting point for offering a long term sustainable voice (and video) feature. It just needs a final release to readily build traction.
- BlackBerry Messenger Voice: It’s About Time(allthingsd.com)