Viber extends free voice calling to BlackBerry app, sidesteps BB10

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Viber Media released a new beta version of its over-the-top BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) messaging application, introducing free voice calling for users on devices running the legacy BlackBerry OS 5 and OS 7 but not the new BlackBerry 10.

Viber for Blackberry 2.4

Viber for BlackBerry 2.4

With the release of Viber for BlackBerry 2.4, consumers can make free HD-quality calls via 3G or Wi-Fi to other supported BlackBerry devices as well as phones powered by Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS, Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android and Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone. Viber for BlackBerry also supports free texting, photo messaging and location sharing.

Viber said that it is issuing the beta in order to bring voice services to BlackBerry as quickly as possible but stressed that engineers are still at work on enhancements ahead of the app's finalized release, suggesting that BlackBerry 10 support may be still be in the cards. "Voice calling is not available on BlackBerry OS 6 due to inherent limitations of the operating system," Viber said.

Viber now counts more than 175 million users in close to 200 million countries worldwide. Earlier this month, the firm extended its app to the Windows Phone 8 platform, and Viber Media CEO Talmon Marco recently said the company also plans to roll out value-added services designed to monetize its platform, but he promised its core calling and messaging services will remain free.

Viber's popularity and expanding feature set poses a challenge to BlackBerry's signature Messenger application, which in recent months has also introduced voice calling options as well as collaborative features and even money transfers. "BBM was traditionally thought of as just a chat client," BlackBerry Vice President of BBM and Social Communities T.A. McCann told Bloomberg following BBM Money's February introduction. "We're really trying to work hard to show clear examples of how we're expanding BBM well beyond just chat."

Roughly three out of every four BlackBerry device owners use BlackBerry Messenger, corresponding to about 60 million active users worldwide. More than 45 percent of all smartphone owners now use some form of instant messaging or OTT messaging app in addition to or instead of traditional SMS, according to a survey conducted in late 2012 by Analysys Mason--in addition, 20 percent of consumers use VoIP apps, and 20 percent within that segment use it more than conventional voice services.

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