January 4, 2024

What are the Different Licenses in Power BI?

By Gavin Pedersen

There really is no such thing as a free lunch. Whether you think about the popular phrase in terms of economics and opportunity cost, science and the four laws of ecology, or that delicious sandwich at the shop down the street, there sadly is no way you’re getting lunch without giving something up.

While Power BI offers flexibility and robust analytics capabilities, it’s easy to get confused with the licensing structure.

In this blog, we’ll answer the free “lunch” question regarding the free features in Power BI, and we’ll help you make the right licensing decisions for your organization to ensure the cost isn’t eating your lunch.

Is Power BI Free?

One of the more common questions we get when helping our clients consider their Power BI licensing strategy is, “Is Power BI really free?” The answer is sort of, but not really. While Microsoft does offer a free license option, it is more suited for personal use. 

Basically, if all you need to do is create a dashboard with a small dataset and not share it with anybody, then the free license may work for you. But if you’re building dashboards for more than just you and want some of the more robust features, then you’re going to have to pay for them (albeit a literal fraction of the cost of some of Power BI’s main competitors).

What is Power BI Premium Capacity?

In order to understand the different license tiers in Power BI, it’s important to know what Power BI Premium Capacity means in the context of your organization’s subscription. Premium Capacity is a capacity, or group-based, offering that includes:

  • Flexibility to publish reports broadly across an enterprise without requiring end-users to be licensed individually per user. 

  • Great scale and performance than shared capacity in the Power BI Service

  • The ability to refresh your Power BI Semantic Models (formerly Datasets) up to 48 times per day

  • Premium features like Power BI Deployment Pipelines

  • Increased storage and semantic model memory size limits

  • Access to all of the new Microsoft Fabric workloads

Power BI Premium Capacity consists of all capacity allocated within your organization and is supported by dedicated hardware fully managed by Microsoft. Your organization gets to choose how to apply the capacity and allocate it to different workspaces and users based on workload and business semantic needs, as well as scale up or down as the demands change.

Premium Capacity is different from Power BI Pro (which we’ll cover in the next section) in the sense that it is a capacity-based setup rather than a user-based license. While a Power BI Pro license is still required to develop content within the Premium Capacity, it is not required to consume content as an end user solely.

If your organization has at least 500 users, you’re likely a good candidate for Power BI Premium Capacity. This way, all of those 500 users won’t require their own individual licenses. Additionally, if your organization has less than 500 users but works with very large datasets and requires larger storage capacity, you may also want to consider Premium Capacity.

Pricing for Premium Capacity starts at $4,995 per month (plus the additional cost of the individual user licenses for each developer), but there are several tiers to choose from that offer increasing storage and compute resources.

What are the Different Per-User Licenses in Power BI?

Three kinds of Power BI per-user licenses exist Free, Pro, and Premium Per User. Determining which type of license a user needs is going to depend on where content is stored, how they will interact with the content, and if that content needs to utilize any Premium features.

There are more nuances than what is summarized in the table below that highlights people’s most common questions about the differences; just know that essentially, a free license holder can create smaller dashboards that only they can use, Pro license holders can create slighter, larger dashboards and share it with other Pro users or to a workspace on Premium Capacity. 

Premium Per User license holders can create even larger dashboards and share them with other Premium or Pro users or to a workspace on Premium Capacity.


The decision to have either Power BI Free, Pro, Premium, or both ultimately boils down to the assessment of your organization’s size, consumption needs, and analytics goals. If you’re a larger organization with far more consumers than developers, you should consider Premium. 

Additionally, as you look to grow and scale up your self-service analytics capabilities, Premium is going to offer the scalability and flexibility you need, especially with the addition of Microsoft Fabric. Take the time to assess each tier available and determine the best fit for your business and its goals.

As a Microsoft Gold Partner, phData is passionate about enabling organizations to develop, share, and utilize the entire Microsoft Power Platform. We help organizations of all sizes build Power Platform solutions in a matter of weeks, enabling you to go from data to insights in as little time as possible. 

To learn more about what the Microsoft Power Platform can do for you and how to plan your Power BI deployment, reach out to our experts for a personalized consultation!


Power BI Premium is available as an add-on to Power BI Pro. Office 365 E5 includes Power BI Pro. E5 customers can purchase Premium as an add-on to their existing Pro licenses.

Power BI Report Server is an on-premises server that allows the deployment and distribution of interactive Power BI reports and paginated reports completely within the boundaries of the organization’s firewall. Power BI Report Server is available through Power BI Premium or as a benefit for customers with SQL Server Enterprise Edition with Software Assurance.

Power BI Premium is purchased based on the number of virtual cores.

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