BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) has been updated today for devices running BlackBerry OS 5, adding support for free voice-calls over a WiFi connection, in-app alerts for BBM updates and better synchronization with BlackBerry IDs.

BBM Voice was first announced as a beta in November last year, before rolling out as part of BBM 7 the following month. At the time it required BlackBerry OS 6 or higher, ruling out pretty much any handset released prior to 2010.

The support for BlackBerry OS 5 means that the Tour 9630 and the Bold 9000, 9700 and 9650 can utilize the feature, as well as the Curve 8520 and 8530, among others.

Now, with the latest version of BBM, it’s easy for users to switch between a standard text-based message and a BBM voice call from within the app. In addition, BBM 7 also introduces in-app alerts for future updates, as well as BBID Synchronization, allowing the user to link their BBM profile, groups and contacts with their BlackBerry ID.

The introduction of VoIP calls to an older generation of BlackBerry devices might not sound very significant, but it’s important to note that because BBM is confined to BlackBerry handsets – unlike a service such as Skype or Viber – it’s vital that new features such as BBM Voice are supported by the entirety of its range.

If the service is too limiting, especially among its own devices, the chances of it being embraced and used on a regular basis by BlackBerry users is reduced. That then increases the chance of a BlackBerry user switching to a rival service, or in a worse case scenario – switching to a different mobile OS next time they upgrade.

As we’ve mentioned in the past, the omission of calls over a 3G connection is disappointing, given how popular BBM has become for staying connected with other people on the move.

BlackBerry claims that BBM is one of the largest mobile-centric communities in the industry, with over 60 million active users and 150 million BBM messages sent every month. Today’s news also follows reports of a new money transfer feature being considered for BBM in emerging markets.

BBM 7 is available for download right now in BlackBerry World, although the company has emphasized that it may take up to 24 hours for it to appear in the storefront.

BBM | BlackBerry

Headline image via Honou