A $k$-lift of an $n$-vertex base graph $G$ is a graph $H$ on $n\times k$
vertices, where each vertex $v$ of $G$ is replaced by $k$ vertices
$v_1,\cdots{},v_k$ and each edge $(u,v)$ in $G$ is replaced by a matching
representing a bijection $\pi_{uv}$ so that the edges of $H$ are of the form
$(u_i,v_{\pi_{uv}(i)})$. Lifts have been studied as a means to efficiently
construct expanders. In this work, we study lifts obtained from groups and
group actions. We derive the spectrum of such lifts via the representation
theory principles of the underlying group. Our main results are:
(1) There is a constant $c_1$ such that for every $k\geq 2^{c_1nd}$, there
does not exist an abelian $k$-lift $H$ of any $n$-vertex $d$-regular base graph
with $H$ being almost Ramanujan (nontrivial eigenvalues of the adjacency matrix
at most $O(\sqrt{d})$ in magnitude). This can be viewed as an analogue of the
well-known no-expansion result for abelian Cayley graphs.
(2) A uniform random lift in a cyclic group of order $k$ of any $n$-vertex
$d$-regular base graph $G$, with the nontrivial eigenvalues of the adjacency
matrix of $G$ bounded by $\lambda$ in magnitude, has the new nontrivial
eigenvalues also bounded by $\lambda+O(\sqrt{d})$ in magnitude with probability
$1-ke^{-\Omega(n/d^2)}$. In particular, there is a constant $c_2$ such that for
every $k\leq 2^{c_2n/d^2}$, there exists a lift $H$ of every Ramanujan graph in
a cyclic group of order $k$ with $H$ being almost Ramanujan. We use this to
design a quasi-polynomial time algorithm to construct almost Ramanujan
expanders deterministically.
The existence of expanding lifts in cyclic groups of order $k=2^{O(n/d^2)}$
can be viewed as a lower bound on the order $k_0$ of the largest abelian group
that produces expanding lifts. Our results show that the lower bound matches
the upper bound for $k_0$ (upto $d^3$ in the exponent)