We recently wrote about why using data on your mobile phone abroad is so expensive – and there’s a number of reasons why that’s the case. But it’s lucky for us there are Robin Hoods out there working tirelessly to help us circumvent this financial landmine and get one over on the mobile networks.

One of these good Samaritans is Tep, a startup that’s taking on the big guns by offering a service that ultimately removes European roaming costs across 16 countries for travellers. Indeed, its ultimate vision is to:

“Create a unique mobile service that allows travellers to remain completely mobile and connected, only paying local rates.”

Tep is powered by 3G networks, and it aims to provide a simple and cheap alternative to expensive roaming and data download charges from mobile operators. And how exactly does it plan to enable consumers to pay the same as a local whilst abroad? By renting smartphones and pocket WiFi devices out to travellers, that’s how.

The devices are rented via Tep’s website, and they can be delivered direct to the customer’s home or hotel, or they can be collected at the airport. At the end of the holiday, they can be returned by post, using a prepaid envelope, and it promises to erase all personal data from the device.

This sounds good…but how much does it all cost?

Well, the smartphone – complete with local telephone number for the country you’re visiting – starts at £9.99 for a single day’s use in Portugal. This price comes down incrementally, and if you’re wanting it from, say, Friday to Friday, that’ll work out at £4.35 a day. It can decrease all the way down to under £3 a day if you want it even longer:

Welcome to Tep 1307725810347 520x300 Tep helps travellers avoid data roaming costsThe price includes unlimited Internet access, and depending on how long you rent it for, you may also get an additional £5 or £10 airtime thrown in for good measure. The prices do vary depending on which country you’re visiting and the service is currently offered in 16 European countries in total.

If you anticipate needing to use the telephone at some point, then you can purchase ‘smartphone extras’ too:

Welcome to Tep 1307725868295 520x190 Tep helps travellers avoid data roaming costsOf course, you may prefer to use your own mobile phone whilst abroad, and Tep offers pocket WiFi devices for this, which act as a sort of portable WiFi hotspot wherever you roam. These are perfect if you’re planning on using Internet only from your smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Using Portugal again as the example, it starts at £12.50 for a single day’s hire, with a 50mb data allowance. This fell to under £4 if you’re renting it for several weeks:

Welcome to Tep 1307726252782 520x319 Tep helps travellers avoid data roaming costsYou can also purchase ‘pocket WiFi extras’, such as car chargers, extra batteries and an unlimited Internet allowance – the latter of which could prove handy if you’re a bit of a data guzzler:

Welcome to Tep 1307726314480 520x142 Tep helps travellers avoid data roaming costsOverall, this seems like a reasonable deal, but it will really depend on where you’re going, how long for and what you require from your portable devices when abroad. It may actually make more sense for you to purchase an allowance from your mobile phone network.

As we reported last week, Vodafone customers on a contract can pay an extra £10 a month to receive 25mb of data each day whilst in Europe. Whilst those on monthly plans costing £40 a month or more (with at least 900 UK minutes) will receive this extra allowance at no extra daily cost. If you only want the occasional day’s allowance, then you can opt to pay £2 per day for a Vodafone Data Traveler pass.

Whatever you do, check with your mobile phone operator first to see what their data roaming rates are like. But if you want access to local call rates, then you’re unlikely to get better rates than what’s on offer with Tep.

There are, of course, other options for keeping your roaming charges down. There’s Onavo, an iPhone app, for starters. And then there’s Droam, which is a similar service to Tep and isn’t restricted to Europe either. Or what about Abroadband, which adopts a SIM card and USB modem approach?

As for Tep, here is a quick promo video to get a better feel for it: