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BlackBerry Messenger 7 lets you make phone calls via Wi-Fi

The latest update to RIM's BlackBerry Messenger adds voice support, so people can call their contacts over a Wi-Fi connection.

BBM users can text or call their contacts with version 7.
BBM users can text or call their contacts with version 7.

Research In Motion users can now text or talk with their BlackBerry Messenger contacts via version 7.

A new voice feature in the latest version allows you to make free phone calls to your BBM contacts over a local Wi-Fi connection. Beyond calling someone initially, you can start off the conversation by texting and then switch to a voice call if needed. You can also tell when your BBM contacts are available for a voice call.

RIM kicked off the new BBM voice calling through the app's beta last month and said the feature received a positive response from early testers.

Among the surveyed customers who tried the beta, 90 percent said they would use BBM Voice while traveling, according to RIM. Almost half of BBM's users have global contacts, so the new feature can save time and money for people who need to call internationally.

BBM 7 includes other updates, as described by RIM.

A split-screen feature is designed to help you better juggle multiple tasks, such as checking e-mail, texting, and making phone calls, without having to bounce around different screens.

An update notification alerts you when the new version is available to you. You can then download it without having to leave the app. And your BBM profile, groups, and contacts are all linked to your BlackBerry ID, which you can back up, restore, and bring with you if you move to BlackBerry 10.

For now, BBM 7 supports only smartphones running BlackBerry 6 or higher, though RIM promises support for BlackBerry 5 early next year.

BBM users will be able to download the free update through BlackBerry App World. That link took me to BBM version 6 early today, but RIM said the new version should appear in the app store sometime in the next 24 hours.

Below is a RIM video, detailing BBM 7.