Satellite systems represent a significant solution to provide communication services to mobile users in under-populated regions, in emergency areas, on planes, trains, and ships. In all these cases, satellite systems have unique capabilities in terms of robustness, wide area coverage, and broadcast/multicast capabilities. This paper surveys current mobile satellite networks and services from different standpoints, encompassing research issues, recent standardization advances (e.g. mobile extension for DVB-S2/-RCS, DVB-SH) and some operational systems (e.g. Globalstar, Inmarsat BGAN, Iridium, and Thuraya). The last part of this paper is devoted to qualitative and quantitative comparisons of the different mobile satellite systems to understand their characteristics in terms of services, capacity, resource utilization efficiency, and user mobility degree.Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.