The READ-ONLY License for Power BI

In most of my presentations all around the world, I still get this question often: “Is there a Read-Only license for Power BI?”, and often starts with “I have some end-users, who are not building any reports, I don’t want to pay for Developer License for them”. I have written about Licensing in Power BI previously, however, I believe that the article is not explaining it clearly enough and there are still some questions around it. So here I am going to talk about this only: The Read-Only license for Power BI.

Is there a Read-Only License?

You have two types of users of Power BI at least in every organization; users who build reports (let’s call them developers), and users who don’t build the report, but use the reports build by the first group, we call this second group, end-users. Let’s say you are a developer. you build a report or two, and now want to share it with end-users. You don’t want to pay the developer license for them, what is the read-only license for Power BI that they can use?

To answer this question, I first need to take you through some facts, explain how they are working, and then answer the question in detail.

Sharing is Not FREE

The first thing you need to understand in the world of licensing for Power BI is that sharing a Power BI content is NOT free. Unless you share content publicly using Publish to Web, which is not a possible method for organizational and confidential data anyways, in this article, we are not talking about public reports sharing. So, sharing is NOT free. That means any user who has access to the Power BI content (report) somehow should be part of a paid plan license of Power BI.

Having a read-only license doesn’t mean having it for free. You need to pay for it, it is not free, but it is cheaper than developer license for sure.

There are Different Plans Depends on the Number of End-Users

The second thing you need to understand is that the licensing plan is different if you share the report with five people, 200 people, or 20K people. Depends on the number of end-users, you have different options to choose from. Let’s now start from a big group, and move along down to the small group of the audience.

Read-Only License for Big Group of End-Users

If you have a large group of end-users, then the way that read-only license works for them is that you assign them a Power BI Free account for each, and then share the content inside a workspace that is assigned to a Power BI Premium licensed capacity.

Power BI Premium is a capacity-based license. When you purchase a Power BI premium license, then you purchase capacity of certain amount of CPU cores, and RAM, etc. You can host your reports in that capacity (by configuring the Power BI workspace to be under a premium capacity). then you can share the content of that workspace with end-users using Power BI Apps. In that scenario, even those end users with the FREE account, still can see the shared content, because it is hosted under a premium capacity.

I know what you are thinking right now; You might say; “Power BI Premium is expensive for being a read-only license.” Power BI Premium can host many users for reports. Let’s say you have 1000 end-users, It would cost you $10 per user per month to give them Pro account, for a month it would cost $10×1000=$10,000 for that many users with Pro account. But with a P1 license, you can do that for half of this price $5,000. For a year, this means $60K cheaper! You can even share reports for more than that many users with the same P1 account. So it is a read-only license for the large end-user group. You will have a very good saving using this licensing plan.

And the beauty of Premium is that it is not just a read-only license, it comes with dedicated capacity, and tons of extra features such as Incremental Refresh, support for Large Models, AI capabilities, etc.

Here is a list of Power BI Premium plans and capacities you can use:

Read-Only License for Mid-Size Group of End-Users

What if you don’t have that many users to share with? if you have 200 end-users, then Premium price that starts from $5,000 a month is not your best read-only license option. Instead, you can use the Power BI Embedded as your read-only option.  Embedded licenses work pretty much similar to the same way that you work with premium, which means that you host the report in a workspace assigned to a dedicated capacity of Power BI Embedded licensing. And then share the content with end-users.

Power BI Embedded is a type of license in Power BI that allows you to embed the Power BI content through a custom web application. You can work with Power BI Embedded in two different ways; Power BI Embedded with token, or without a token. With the token, means that end-users can use the content event without having a Power BI account.

Power BI Embedded without a token, means users need to have Power BI account;

In any of the above options, the Power BI Embedded option will give you a much cheaper option than the Pro account per user. Let’s say, for example, you have 200 end-users, paying Pro account for them, will cost you $2K per month. However, you can get an embedded license of EM1, which will cost you something close to $700 per month.

Having the Power BI Embedded licensing is not just about the ability to share with users. It comes with many other useful options such as having your custom portal for a central hub of everything as well as the Power BI report.

Read-Only License for Small-Size Group of End-Users

If you have a small group of end-users, let’s say, for example, 15 users. Then your best option at the moment is to purchase Pro account, Unfortunately for that many users, the best price you get is still Pro, because paying pro means $150 per month (considering $10 per user per month), which is less than embedded or premium minimum price bands.

And of course, Power BI Pro account comes with many other useful features too, users can now build reports if ever they want too. They can be part of a workspace, and share content with others.

Short Answer: Yes

There is a Read-Only license for Power BI. However, it might not look like what you think. Depends on the number of end-users you have for your Power BI solution, you can choose between options. Power BI Premium and Embedded both offer really good options to be used for end-users as read-only.

If you want to know more about the licensing options in Power BI in detail, I recommend reading my article here.

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Reza Rad
Trainer, Consultant, Mentor
Reza Rad is a Microsoft Regional Director, an Author, Trainer, Speaker and Consultant. He has a BSc in Computer engineering; he has more than 20 years’ experience in data analysis, BI, databases, programming, and development mostly on Microsoft technologies. He is a Microsoft Data Platform MVP for 12 continuous years (from 2011 till now) for his dedication in Microsoft BI. Reza is an active blogger and co-founder of RADACAD. Reza is also co-founder and co-organizer of Difinity conference in New Zealand, Power BI Summit, and Data Insight Summit.
Reza is author of more than 14 books on Microsoft Business Intelligence, most of these books are published under Power BI category. Among these are books such as Power BI DAX Simplified, Pro Power BI Architecture, Power BI from Rookie to Rock Star, Power Query books series, Row-Level Security in Power BI and etc.
He is an International Speaker in Microsoft Ignite, Microsoft Business Applications Summit, Data Insight Summit, PASS Summit, SQL Saturday and SQL user groups. And He is a Microsoft Certified Trainer.
Reza’s passion is to help you find the best data solution, he is Data enthusiast.
His articles on different aspects of technologies, especially on MS BI, can be found on his blog:

6 thoughts on “The READ-ONLY License for Power BI

  • Hi, you quote a pro license at $150 per user per month. Are you sure about that? I’m pretty sure it’s around $10 per month per user?

  • Re: “share content publicly using Publish to Web, which is not a possible method for organizational and confidential data anyways.”

    Sorry, I’m new- why couldn’t you just publish to password-protected webpage?

    • If someone logs in to that page, and somehow could right-click on the page, and view the source, and copy the embed code for it, then he/she can share it in any other pages.

  • Maybe you can also clarify the minimum costs of other services that are prerequisite to get Power BI Pro licenses up and running if you are outside of MS ecosystem.Taking your example, the company is 15 users and it does not use any of MS services (let’s say it is living in the Google ecosystem) so it’s only after Power BI itsleft, do you have to have MS 365 or you can live with trial version, do you have to have Active directory / other “mondatory” services?

    • Hi Yuri
      if your company doesn’t use any MSFT systems or licenses at all, then just a Power BI license would be enough still. You can use a different non-MSFT product or services for your emails etc.

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