Mobile ad hoc networks (MANETs) represent complex distributed systems that comprise wireless mobile nodes that can freely and dynamically self-organize into arbitrary and temporary, ” ad-hoc” network topologies, allowing people and devices to seamlessly internetwork in areas with no pre-existing communication infrastructure, e.g., disaster recovery environments. Ad hoc networking concept is not a new one, having been around in various forms for over 20 years. Traditionally, tactical networks have been the only communication networking application that followed the ad hoc paradigm. Recently, the introduction of new technologies such as the Bluetooth, IEEE 802.11 and Hyperlan are helping enable eventual commercial MANET deployments outside the military domain. These recent evolutions have been generating a renewed and growing interest in the research and development of MANET. This paper attempts to provide a comprehensive overview of this dynamic field. It first explains the important role that mobile ad hoc networks play in the evolution of future wireless technologies. Then, it reviews the latest research activities in these areas, including a summary of MANET's characteristics, capabilities, applications, and design constraints. The paper concludes by presenting a set of challenges and problems requiring further research in the future.