We've written often in the past about the merits of industry consolidation, expressing the belief that it would be good for the urgent-communications sector if the vendor population coalesced into three strong players that could compete on more equal footing with Motorola, which still is the 900-pound gorilla. That's not a knock against Motorola. It's just that we believe customers benefit from technology and price innovation when relatively equal combatants slug it out.

Unfortunately, Motorola keeps screwing up that strategy by making its own acquisitions to strengthen its position in the jungle. First there was the purchase of MeshNetworks, in November 2004, which boosted the company's wireless mesh network portfolio. Roughly two years later, Motorola spent $3.9 billion for Symbol Technologies, a leader in radio frequency identification and wireless LAN technologies. Given the long-embraced adage that it usually is faster and less expensive to acquire expertise than to develop it on your own, these deals made perfect business sense.

This week, Motorola made a purchase that doesn't fit this model, agreeing to acquire 80% of Japan-based Vertex Standard for $108 million (see story below) during the next two months. After all, Motorola already knows how to make radios, and quite well at that. So, we've been wondering what the giant is thinking.

One rationale is that Motorola is buying Vertex in order to gain entry into the lower-price sector. Price-point diversification always is a good strategy. General Motors has been doing it for years, with its Cadillac brand targeted to the most affluent buyers, Buick and Oldsmobile (now defunct) targeted to the middle tier, and Chevrolet targeted to the lower tier. Motorola is best known for its technologically advanced but comparatively expensive radios, so why not look for a way to sell radios to customers that can't afford top-of-the-line gear? There's always going to be demand for low-price radios.

I bounced this theory off Steve Guller, vice president of Warner Communications, a two-way radio dealership in St. Louis. Guller told me that the theory would be solid, except for one thing: Motorola already has dipped its toe into the lower-price market. Then he proceeded to explain why he thought Motorola might have acquired Vertex: it makes a radio at the lower price points that is better than what Motorola has been able to offer.

"Vertex, engineering-wise can get a product done a lot cheaper than Motorola," Guller said. "Where Motorola will put a whole team of engineers on a project, Vertex -- and this is the Japanese way -- will put six guys on it. They're much more efficient." He speculated that the acquisition would let Motorola focus its engineering on the higher-spec products because Vertex would be handling the low-end and mid-tier products, which it already is doing well.

When I mentioned to Guller that Motorola was being uncharacteristically tight-lipped about this purchase, he wasn't surprised. "My opinion is that this is not the end game, it's a step towards the end game," he said. "There's something else going on that we don't know about."

Perhaps. But the secrecy also could be due simply to the fact that the deal is not completed or that Vertex is a Japanese company. I remember when Kenwood, also a Japanese company, announced earlier this year that it had agreed to acquire Zetron. I called a source at Zetron to find out more about the deal and came away empty -- which doesn't happen to me very often. It would have been easier to extract a wisdom tooth from a grizzly bear. I think this source was scared to say anything. Japanese companies typically keep things close to the vest and expect their business partners to do the same.

Regardless of the reasons for this acquisition and whether it portends a bigger play down the road, Motorola's purchase of Vertex should be sending a shiver up the spine of radio-manufacturer executives. The giant is getting bigger. Consolidation is happening -- just not in the way it needs to.

E-mail me at gbischoff@mrtmag.com.