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The paper presents a study of key aspects in the design of a flexible unified data plane capable of integrating both fronthaul and backhaul transport in future 5G systems. In this study, we first review candidate access and multiplexing technologies from the state of the art and assess their capability to support legacy and new fronthaul and backhaul traffic. We then propose a new design framework for the targeted flexible unified data plane, featuring a primary packet-switching path supported by an auxiliary circuit-switching for extreme low latency scenarios. This comprises a summary of the first results achieved in the 5G-Crosshaul EU project since its kick-off in July 2015.