* Close to 5 million users
* Wants to be ‘Facebook’ for drivers
* Signs ABC deal in Los Angeles
By Tarmo Virki, European Technology Correspondent
HELSINKI, July 5 (Reuters) - Mobile satellite navigation start-up Waze has doubled its customer base in the past six months to nearly five million, and expects more growth from new deals with television and public sector clients.
Waze also unveiled a partnership with ABC’s local channel in Los Angeles that will help motorists find the best routes through congestion.
Waze founder Uri Levine said in an interview on Tuesday the business has also been growing quickly in Latin America where it was recently chosen to provide traffic information to Colombia.
The 2009-founded Waze uses satellite signals from members’ smartphones to generate maps and traffic data, which it then shares with other users. The quality of data improves as more drivers join the network and use it.
Smartphone users can use its service for free.
Waze reached 4.5 million users by mid-June and membership is growing by 500,000 per month, Levine said.
“We are on a verge of reaching critical mass on many markets,” Levine said. “In the end we want to be the Facebook of drivers.”
Waze has reached the mass needed for good service in Israel, and is about to reach critical mass elsewhere, including France, Italy, the Netherlands, and the U.S. west coast.
While other satellite navigation providers help drivers find the way to to sites they do not know — something Levine says one needs twice a month — Waze aims to save drivers time on their usual routes.
It competes against much larger companies like Google , TomTom and Garmin .
Waze raised $25 million in late 2010 from Nokia-backed Blue Run Ventures , Magma Venture Partners and Vertex Venture Capital, while Qualcomm Ventures also joined in the round as a new investor. (Editing by Dan Lalor)